by Jacob Demé
In a developed nation of the 21st century, less than half the country is providing sufficient sex education to young people attending public school. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, as of March 1st of this year, there are only 24 states in the U.S. that have mandates in place requiring their public schools to provide sex education to their students. The topic of sex education in schools has undergone innumerable heated debates over content, age-appropriateness, or even the right of public schools to educate children about sex at all.
While legislators argue over whether or not to provide this right to its nation’s youth, students across the nation are left to live with the consequences of their decisions. Because the students who were excluded from an education in the reality and responsibility of sex continue in their academic careers, there is a societal expectation that they must have learned about sexual health and safety on their own. Unfortunately, many youths do not live in a situation that is conducive to discussions about sexual health with their parents, leaving them to the devices of personal research that could very well leave them misinformed and expose them to potential harm. Epidemiological statistics put forward by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that when a young person is barred from gaining the proper sexual health education, that individual is not the only one risk.
The CDC reports that the age demographic of 15-24 year olds account for over half of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases diagnosed each year. Considering there are approximately 20 million of these diagnoses, it is clear that sexually transmitted diseases pose a significant threat to those who have not learned about practicing safe sex. This is what makes sex education pertinent to the college campus. Generally, when one leaves home and enters the college setting, there is a new sense of freedom in making one’s own decisions about one’s lifestyle, including decisions about sex. This places additional importance on having sex education readily available for college students who may never have had the opportunity earlier in life.
Here, on UC Berkeley’s campus, the university has worked to achieve this goal of providing sexual health education and services on campus. There is a student-run course titled Sex 101: Topics in Sexual Health that students can enroll in just like any other academic class. This course has proven to be an extremely popular option, for when asked about enrollment, Linda Vang, a co-facilitator of the class, said “…it is application-based because on the high volume of interest of students.” This indicates just how many students exhibit an unmet need for sexual health education, and not only among younger students according to Vang, “there was actually a very diverse range of students from freshmen all the way to super seniors.”
For those who wish for a less-formal medium in which to access information about sexual health, there are consultants (some are students, others are not) who can provide information and counsel students who require assistance. These consultants can be found both in the university health services Tang Center as well as in each dorm building, constituting a practical resource for students living in university housing.
The few mandatory, structured, sexual education resources available on campus are geared toward incoming students through an online program, and include university programs that are strictly prepared for the Greek community. The focus of these mandatory sex education programs is specifically sexual violence, and the ways to reduce and prevent its occurrence. While education on sexual assault is somewhat removed from directly dealing with the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, Vang explains that, “all aspects of sex ed, from consent to communication to STD prevention, are equally important because they’re all intertwined.”
It is fortunate that students are able to draw upon the vast resources UC Berkeley offers, but their popularity indicates that an unmet need for knowledge regarding all facets of sexual health undoubtedly persists in earlier academic years. For those who do not attend a university with such opportunities, there is little chance of rectifying the mistakes of a flawed health education system.