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While some may think about sex every six seconds, Harvard College’s administrators certainly don’t. A recently released report that gave 139 colleges each a “Sexual Health Report Card” gave Harvard only a 3.2 out of a possible 4.0. The report—which was sponsored by the makers of Trojan condoms and carried out by Sperling’s BestPlaces—graded schools on the availability and quality of sexual health resources on campus. The report evaluated the school in eleven categories—including web site, lecture and outreach, sexual assault services, HIV and STI testing, advice column and condom availability—and its findings make it clear that as far as sexual health education goes at Harvard, there’s still much work to be done.
College is a time when many students—particularly Harvard students, many of whom prioritized studying over dating in high school—become sexually active for the first time. Freshmen arrive on campus, attend Sex Signals (which is geared toward reducing sexual violence by promoting communication), and are thoroughly taught “what not to do” as regards sex. But when it comes to what students should be doing in order to make their sex lives emotionally and physically healthy, the College doesn’t say enough.
That freshmen are educated about sexual health in a nonthreatening, non-stigmatizing way is essential. While sexual health issues may seem taboo to some students, it is students who are the most “shy” or uncomfortable about sex that are the least likely to seek information should they become sexually active. Students fear stigmatization if they talk about sex, but sex needs to be de-stigmatized in order to be safe. All college students—but particularly freshmen—need to know the facts about sexual health if they are to make well-informed lifestyle choices.
Luckily for the Freshmen Dean’s Office (FDO), there is an easy way to bring factual, non-directive sexual health education into freshman dorms. The FDO—specifically, the Peer Advising Fellows should work with Harvard’s Peer Contraceptive Counselors (PCC) to plan sexual-health-education themed freshmen study breaks. PCC is a non-directive group that trains its members to know the truth about contraceptives, STIs, pregnancy and abortion, and mental health. Members of PCC are the right people to educate freshmen about sex because they will be able to move talk about serious topics—like condom use and STI testing at UHS—from the realm of theory to the student dorm.
Freshmen may be too shy to seek out PCC or other on-campus resources with questions, and they may be reluctant to talk with authority figures about topics like sex that are socially taboo. With PCC counselors at study breaks, younger students will have a natural, social opportunity to ask their questions about sex and get real answers—not dining hall or locker room fiction.
Harvard students should think about sex: In light of Trojan’s recent Sexual Health Report Card, the need for educational outreach seems especially important. The college would do well to recognize that positive, peer-to-peer education about mental health and eating concerns would also greatly benefit freshmen. Harvard is a place where many students are afraid to express what they perceive to be weaknesses; more peer-to-peer education could do a great deal to reduce this fear. Freshmen study breaks provide the perfect opportunity for members of groups like Room 13, Eating Concerns Hotline and Outreach, the Bureau of Study Counsel and the like to make freshmen aware of positive health habits and the Harvard resources that support them. If health resources such as peer counseling groups are widely advertised and de-stigmatized, more students are likely to take advantage of them.
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