The Santa Clara
January 31, 2019
By age 13, I had witnessed several annual naked bike rides and attended the Seattle Children’s Hospital puberty class where teenage girls shouted genitalia vernacular while sitting next to their mothers. Do not be misled, this is by no means a classic “Seattleite who is super comfortable with talking about everything and therefore we should be too” situation. In fact, it is quite the opposite. At the time, I was horrified.
Fast forward to my first few months at Santa Clara. I slowly realized my upbringing was very different than that of my classmates. Most of them had attended Catholic schools all of their lives (duh, we go to a Catholic university), but to my alarm, most had also never experienced sexual health education. No mandatory health class session in middle school where they separate the boys and girls. No sit-down with your parents who burst your bubble and uncomfortably inform you the stork is not real.
I further investigated and realized this void of silence led to most of my peers not understanding basic rules for safe sex. It was during this time that I came to appreciate the knowledge I had gained from my circa 2009 most “embarrassing” moments.
Sexual health affects all individuals who engage in any kind of sexual activity (oral, anal or vaginal). Sexually transmitted diseases—or its synonymous less scary name, sexually transmitted infections (STDs/ STIs)—affects all age groups. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, America’s youth ages 15-24 contribute to over half of the 20 million new STIs that occur annually. Mind you, this population makes up for only a quarter of the sexually active population. What does this mean? We are having a lot of sex. One in two individuals in this age group will have an STI and not be aware of it.
But what is the big deal about STIs anyway, and why should we care? Well, for one thing, STIs can be incredibly uncomfortable in the short term but in the long run can lead to more permanent abdominal or pelvic pain. Undiagnosed STIs also account for the 24,000 women who become infertile each year. Although I could go on, I will only add one more fact: STIs can increase one’s risk of getting or receiving Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and in some cases, certain strains of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cancer.
Universities have the amazing opportunity to promote good sexual practices and provide necessary STI testing for this at-risk population.
However, Santa Clara’s commitment to Catholic principles such as abstaining from sex until marriage, hinders the university from providing its students with accessible information about safe sexual health, as well as the necessary preventative medical services like condoms and birth control. This is illustrated by what Cowell Health Center can or cannot provide Santa Clara students. The university does allow Cowell to provide STI testing and the necessary medication, although I am only aware of this information after calling and asking directly.
But most people want to avoid making this phone call. So if you turn to Cowell’s homepage there is information under the STDs link. The first two paragraphs after clicking on the STD link are perfectly reflective of Santa Clara’s effort toward educating its student population on STIs and safe sexual practices. Under its brief description of an STD, it incorrectly claims there are 12 million new cases of STD cases, when the Center for Disease Control tells us there are 20 million new cases. Then comes its most helpful statement: “The only way to ensure that you do not contract an STD is through abstinence. However, through safer sex practices, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting an STD.”
And therein lies the catch-22—in the event that you do not follow abstinence, Santa Clara does not provide condoms or birth control methods for contraceptive purposes. The Cowell Center leaves its students completely in the dark about what these phantom safer sex practices entail.
Santa Clara’s tight grip on Cowell has prevented it from fully carrying out its duty of providing the best and most informative medical care and health information.
Santa Clara is not the only offender here. Many schools have a long way to go in improving their sexual health services and education. However, this should not serve as an excuse for what is currently provided at Santa Clara. Our neighbors at Stanford University have presented STI testing as an integral part of their health services platform. It even gets its own category underneath medical services! Stanford also presents ways in which students can learn about sexual health from their peers, a way of making this taboo subject more approachable.
I do like to think we are far superior to Stanford, however, they have 100 percent outdone us in this department. Discussing sexual health goes far beyond the disease aspect, and into the emotional and psychological. Barring Santa Clara’s students from the physical component of sexual health ultimately bars students from learning about the equally as important emotional and psychological components as they are undeniably intertwined with one another.
When not acknowledged or addressed, we see these components proliferate abusive relationships, body dysmorphia and sexual assault. Whether acknowledged or not, sexual activity is occurring and college- aged students are paying the highest price when it comes to STIs.
To honestly and wholeheartedly serve its students, Santa Clara needs to provide the space and time for questions, education and support surrounding all aspects of sexual health.
June Kissel is a senior public health major and biology minor.