By Brooklyn Waller, Youth Advisory Council member
Brooklyn is a freshman at the University of Arkansas. She advocates for those without access to health care and for students to take advantage of their local school-based health centers.
The following reflects Brooklyn’s lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions.
You walk into your on-campus school-based health center (SBHC) to check-in for your appointment, and you see a bowl of contraceptives right next to the admissions desk. You know that you need them for this Friday night, but you are too afraid to take them because of the stares you might receive from other peers or health professionals. Why are you scared to take them? Is it because you don’t want people to know you are having sex? Is it because you feel a sense of shame or embarrassment? Students are walking in and out of SBHCs daily without the resources they need to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI). I have seen the need from my peers for these contraceptives while I am in the health center. Although the issue seems more prevalent on college campuses, the truth is that it starts in high school. The lack of sexual health education and resources on high school campuses impacts individuals as they move on to college. The main difference from high school to college is that students now have more freedom.
The education system is failing our students regarding practicing safe sex in the real world.
How often can you recall STI/STD’s being discussed in your high school health classes? I remember it being talked about once and then quickly being dismissed. The teacher did not want to or lacked direction from the state on how to talk about safe sex or how to prevent infections, diseases, and teen pregnancy from happening. For example, Arkansas does not mandate sexual education programs in schools, similar to 17 other states in the United States.1 This lack of discussion often snowballs to students not knowing where to find the resources to prevent these outcomes. As a freshman in college, I have found that no one discusses the topic here either. The education system is failing our students regarding practicing safe sex in the real world. Science, math, language, and history are essential subjects in school and the foundation for our college education. However, these courses aren’t going to prevent students from contracting an STI/STD or prevent teen pregnancy.
One in four individuals will contract a sexually transmitted disease each year.2 That means that if there are four people in a room, one has an STD. The number should be zero out of four, but the reality is that that one individual probably did not receive the comprehensive sex education he/she needed. Often, instead of discussing the topic, teachers and health professionals will say that abstinence is key and move on. However, abstinence is clearly not the only answer. While some individuals may not have sex before marriage, the reality is that this teaching tactic is not working. Instead of teaching students that sex is bad, teachers should be telling students that safe sex is equally as crucial as abstinence. This one idea has the potential to change the stigma regarding sex, especially in the southern states.
Often, instead of discussing the topic, teachers and health professionals will say that abstinence is key and move on.
My college, the University of Arkansas, provides a program to its freshman students called “Sex on the Hill.” Students can go to their RA’s and receive condoms, cookies, and advice regarding safe sex practices during this program. One of the doctors at our health center gives a presentation and discusses various sexually transmitted infections. Although the idea of cookies and condoms sounds odd, this program can help the other three out of four people not contract an STD/STI. Instead of running from the issue and preaching abstinence-only is key, the University is actively trying to teach students that were not taught sexual education in high school. The initiative educates students and guarantees that they are aware of the repercussions sex can have, which is crucial to their success as students and their success as an individual.
With COVID-19 forcing a nationwide shut-down, many students cannot obtain contraceptives from their health center or local grocery store.
Students may not want to take the contraceptives offered in the bowl at the front desk, but it is vital to find creative ways to provide education. It is also important to remember this issue during this COVID-19 pandemic. With COVID-19 forcing a nationwide shut-down, many students cannot obtain contraceptives from their health center or local grocery store. This problem creates another epidemic in the sense of teen pregnancy. As a result of being stuck inside, teens sought out ways to go and do things regardless. However, their desire to want to do something while quarantined inside may have resulted in teen pregnancies.3 As a result, the issue of teen pregnancy and STI/STD prevention has been pushed too far back on the burner for school-based health centers.
Student success is of the most importance for educators and health professionals. How can we guarantee their success if we aren’t doing everything possible to benefit them outside the classroom and clinic? The issues of teen pregnancy and STI/STDs are important as they are influencing factors in how their future proceeds. Educators and health professionals can break the cycle by encouraging students to seek help or making these resources well-known. Students, if they aren’t going to educate you, educate yourself! You are in charge of your life and what your future looks like, so grab one of the contraceptives at the counter or four if you need them! You can prevent the percentage of STI/STDs and teen pregnancies from going higher than it is right now!
- Institute, G. (2021, March 01). Sex and HIV Education. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education?gclid=Cj0KCQiA1pyCBhCtARIsAHaY_5e6mJeyvg6fXFEzNi3vwUKFih6D28YEQ6n7OXUS9syAj8TBzTbxRxEaAvbnEALw_wcB
- 11 Facts About Teens and STDs. DoSomething.org. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-teens-and-stds.
- Hernandez, N. (2020, December 8). How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting Birth Rates in Spokane. krem.com. https://www.krem.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/how-covid19-pandemic-affects-birth-rates-spokane/293-9d356770-9eaa-46eb-b064-82cd9c99a031.