Georgetown University takes great pride in the geographic diversity of its student body. Join any tour with the Blue and Gray Tour Guide Society, and you’ll hear about how students come to Georgetown from all 50 states, as well as almost 50 countries.
There is great value in geographic diversity, but that value is accompanied with consequence: Inconsistent state laws create huge discrepancies among students’ levels of sexual education.
By neglecting to supplement these greatly varying levels of knowledge with a baseline of sex education for incoming students, Georgetown is complicit in the establishment of an unsafe and unhealthy student environment.
Time and time again, evidence from groups like the Guttmacher Institute has suggested comprehensive sex education does more to promote healthy relationships and to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies than does abstinence-only education.
Yet, many states still require abstinence-only sex education, if sex education is provided at all. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 24 states require sex education of any kind, and only 18 require that educators provide information about contraception. Furthermore, only 13 of the 27 states that set requirements for when sex education is provided stipulate that the information provided must be medically accurate. Sarah Denford, writing for Health Psychology Review in 2017, found that abstinence-until-marriage programs place young people at increased risk of becoming pregnant or contracting an STI. A failure to teach comprehensive sexual health carries potential — yet avoidable — dangers to students.
When it comes to LGBTQ-inclusive sex education, the statistics are even more abysmal. Only 12 states require some sort of discussion on sexual orientation, and three of those states require “only negative information on sexual orientation,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. These 12 states only require a discussion about sexual orientation, which may or may not include information about safety and sexual health in nonheterosexual relationships.
Making matters worse, these already insufficient requirements apply only to public schools. Private schools that abide by their own rules are free to teach or not teach sex education as they — or their affiliated religion — see fit. Beyond the United States, international students are also affected by extreme variance in levels of sex education between countries.
Clearly, the vast geographic variety within the Georgetown student body creates a serious discrepancy in the level of formal sex education that incoming students have received. If Georgetown wants a safe, healthy and happy student body, it should add a short section on sex education to New Student Orientation or other programming directed toward incoming students.
To be effective, this sex-ed segment must be comprehensive and LGBTQ-inclusive while also addressing the pleasurable and enjoyable facets of sex rather than just focusing on avoiding potential negative outcomes. Orientation for new students already includes information on healthy relationships, and a section on safe sexual relationships would easily fit in.
The addition of basic sex education may feel unnecessary to some students who already receive extensive sex education in high school or for those who choose to abstain from sex. Nevertheless, this information is critical for all students on a college campus to understand. Even if just a few students pay attention and learn something new, it will be worth the addition.
A 20-minute long session could make a huge difference for students who have never been exposed to medically accurate and inclusive sex education. By including such content in orientation, students who may not have previously learned this information will not have to be embarrassed or singled out. Rather, they will be able to conveniently get the information they need.
Mandating comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive and positive sex education is a big ask for a Catholic university. Yet, one of the most central Jesuit values — and one that we hear about a lot at Georgetown — is care for the whole person. And there’s no denying it: Students have sex.
Healthy and safe sexual relationships need to be part of that care for the whole person. Including a comprehensive and inclusive sex education module in NSO will demonstrate Georgetown’s true commitment to the health and well-being of its students.
Talia Parker is a sophomore in the College. Let’s Talk About Sex(ual Health) runs online every other Thursday.