Story and Gallery by ASIA BOWN
Now more than ever students have ready access to sexual health resources through their campus health centers and their local Planned Parenthood center.
Young adults pursuing some form of education are in an interesting position; their school will more than likely have an office that provides sexual and reproductive health guidance and counseling. For many students living alone away from home it’s their first time exploring and attempting to maintain their sexual health, and they often do so with limited resources and guidance.
Many campuses utilize groups of students in the pursuit to provide better sexual health resources that can help students who didn’t receive proper counsel earlier in their lives. At the University of Utah, a group of students has been trained to assist other students with sexual health guidance and provide counsel through the ACES Peer Health Education program, which operates out of the Center for Student Wellness located in Suite 2100 of the Eccles Student Life Center.
Maya Jolley, a health educator at the Center for Student Wellness and creator of the ACES Peer Health Education program, says that we need to improve upon the current sex education curriculum and it should be introduced before students have the chance to develop bad habits. (Jolley said that ACES was once an acronym but is no longer used that way.)
One of the biggest misconceptions Jolley has encountered in her career as a health educator is that sexuality is a mere fraction of our lives. She explains a crucial lesson she learned from a mentor during her time in college, “Sexuality — regardless of what form it takes — is essentially a river that is constantly running through our body.” She added, “We need a strong, humane education to match the intensity of it (sexuality) in our bodies.”
Jolley’s team of student educators has organized numerous presentations on campus geared toward sex education and wellness. Linda Derhak, one of the original student leaders, describes one of her most rewarding experiences on the team wherein she partnered up with another team member to create a basic sex education presentation. According to Derhak, they included “general facts and communication pieces, or how to talk about sex with your partner.”
Elnaz Tahmassebi, another team member dedicated to providing education on sexual wellness, discussed the STI clinics her team organizes every semester, during which students have the opportunity to ask questions about their sexual wellness. “With the STI clinics,” she said, “I speak to people one-on-one and can actually see, like, a change and address their concerns and I feel like I’m making more of an individual change.”
For students who live in the school’s dorms or spend a considerable amount of time on campus, getting access to these STI clinics and other services is as easy as getting to class. But for students who don’t live on campus and don’t want to be there for anything but their classes, their city’s Planned Parenthood is another viable option, provided that there is one nearby. These centers provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, like contraception, cancer screenings, STD/STI testing, and various birth control options.
In college, students have enough bills to pay and it may seem unnecessary to visit a health professional for an education that many medical and education professionals argue students should have received in grade school. This assumption is entirely false and local Planned Parenthood centers offer inexpensive sexual healthcare.
For many students, Planned Parenthood centers are their primary resources for sexual and reproductive healthcare. It’s extremely important that they have continued access to these resources because without them, they’ll resort to neglecting their sexual health and develop bad habits, like never getting tested for STDs and STIs, foregoing a cancer screening because of the high price tag, and practicing unsafe sex.
In August, it was revealed that Planned Parenthood refused Title X funds in opposition to a Trump administration rule that would prevent centers from referring patients to doctors who provided abortions. While the organization’s actual abortion numbers are erroneously exaggerated by various groups working against it, it is one of the fundamental rights people have in our country. Planned Parenthood is doing everything in its power to defend these rights and continue to provide necessary healthcare services to people across the country.
In addition to STD/STI screenings, various forms of birth control, and cancer screenings, people also have access to counsel from doctors who specialize in sexual and reproductive health. People can make appointments to discuss procedures, safe sexual behavior, and past experiences to gain a more thorough knowledge of their sexual health.
As young adults grow and mature, so should their knowledge of healthy sexual practices. Without a proper sex education, young people are more likely to engage in unhealthy sexual relationships and develop negative attitudes toward sex, which can set the course for the rest of their lives if they continue to go uneducated.
If they’ve had a proper sex education students can learn to avoid abusive relationships, recognize their boundaries and those of their partners, and engage in safe sex practices. These are important lessons to learn as they get older and begin to enter more frequently into sexual relationships. Often times, students seek guidance from trusted friends and confidants, but the information they get isn’t always dependable or even true.
“There’s a lot of bad information that young people get when they only talk to their friends because they aren’t actually talking to a professional who knows what they’re talking about,” Derhak said. By seeking help from trained professionals at school health centers or local Planned Parenthood centers, students are more likely to get accurate information that will allow them to make better decisions regarding their sexual health.
The importance of access to sexual and reproductive health services for students is still grossly underestimated in our society, though strides are being made to improve student sexual health.