Sexual health education deserves a place in orientation programming

Laura Hallas

The Texas public school system takes responsibility for students’ education from the age of five until they graduate college. However, at no point is there a requirement for practical sexual education, creating vastly different levels of knowledge by the time students enter college. The transition from high school is the perfect time to pick up slack and level the playing field.

The current state public sexual education legislation, HB 78, passed in 2015, continues to promote abstinence as the only form of safe sex. The Texas Department of State Health Services website does not mention “sexual education” or contraceptives, only “abstinence education.” The site makes clear that “abstinence from sexual activity is an expected outcome” of the program. However, this is not reality.

A 2011 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found Texas to have the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 survey found that 47 percent of students had previously had sex.

This year, almost 10,000 incoming freshman and transfer students attended orientation information sessions about campus safety and completed an online program called “Think About It” meant to reduce risk risk involving alcohol, drugs, sexual violence and healthy relationships.

“Think About It” was judged by student focus groups and University Health Services to be the most comprehensive of its kind, but does not cover the physiological and anatomical aspects of sexual activity. Since the program was created by a third party, it would be UT’s responsibility to create a sex-ed supplement. UHS health promotion manager Jessica Hughes Wagner would be a part of this team.

“The program is really focused on healthy relationships, less about educating anatomy and physiology,” said Wagner, “There is some catching up to do, and ‘Think About It’ is not intended to cover that.”

While UHS offers excellent opportunities for students to seek out sexual health services, it is more difficult to ensure an accurate baseline sexual education for all students. If a video like “Think About It” or a sexual health seminar were added to orientation programming, students would receive more vital health information that they otherwise wouldn’t have. 

“I’m glad UT does provide its students with this knowledge, or else many of us would probably never get it,” said freshman Cynthia Chu.

High school administrators and lawmakers may feel squeamish about imposing values onto families and children in terms of sexual health. But college students are not children. If a public institution can talk to them frankly about sexual violence and binge drinking, they should be able to sit through a 20-minute required health video. 

There is a lack of practical sexual education throughout the state public school system, but entrance into college offers an opportunity to provide some of this background through required programming. The extra 20 minutes of required information would be a simple but vital addition to the orientation requirements, utilizing resources already in place to improve the knowledge and safety of new students.

Laura Hallas is a Plan II and human development freshman.