Health Services helps address common misconceptions in sexual health

Many students come to college lacking knowledge and information about sexual health. 

When it comes to sexual education, many students come to college with inadequate information.

This is especially a problem for those who come from Texas public schools, said Latoya Oduniyi, UTA Health Services assistant director. Texas sexual education is usually insufficient, leaving students with knowledge gaps that can have detrimental effects.

According to a study from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, more than 83% of Texas school districts taught abstinence-only or no sex education in 2015-16. Very few schools taught LGBTQ sex education at all.

Because of the lack of education in Texas and other parts of the world, one of Health Services’ goals for the year is to refocus and expand the topic of sex education for UTA students, Oduniyi said.

College is where some may become more sexually active, so it’s even more important that students are educated on sexual health and resources, said Dr. Angela Middleton, UTA Health Services director.

One of the biggest health misconceptions that students have is about sexual and reproductive health, Middleton said.

Here are some of the things students need to know about sex.

Protection, not just a contraceptive

Many students enter their collegiate careers with the misconception that they are being sexually responsible because they use birth control to avoid pregnancy.

Many students think that as long as they or their sexual partner is using birth control, such as the pill, they are in the clear, Middleton said.

However, while that protects students from unwanted pregnancy, it still leaves them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, she said.

Additionally, oral sex doesn’t automatically mean safe sex either, said Hughes Cowart, peer health educator and public health senior.

Although oral sex has a lower risk of transmitting disease, chlamydia, herpes, HIV and other diseases can still be transmitted through oral sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think you’re going to find a lot of stuff just as a result of poor sex ed in schools, where people are unaware about certain things regarding safe sex,” Cowart said.

Condoms or dental dams — barriers to be used between the mouth and a sexual organ — can be used to protect people during oral sex, according to the CDC.

Additionally, Middleton said she encounters students who believe someone cannot get pregnant if it’s the person’s first time having sex or that pregnancy can be prevented if the man uses the withdrawal or “pull out” method.

Neither is true, and while withdrawing can reduce the chance of getting pregnant, it isn’t infallible. According to the U.S. Office of Population Affairs website, with typical use, 20 out of 100 women will become pregnant during the first year of using this method. This method also does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Consent needs to be a part of the conversation

Consent should also be a part of every step of sex education, Oduniyi said. Communication and sexual activity should be linked.

“It’s a conversation; it’s an agreement,” Oduniyi said.

It’s about asking for permission before touching someone, making sure the other person says yes and says it emphatically, and paying attention to nonverbal cues, she said.

Consent is the agreement between two people to engage in sexual activity. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, it should be received in each sexual encounter, and either party should be allowed to change their mind at any time.

Oduniyi said she thinks sometimes people run into the problem of ignorance rather than being bad people. These concepts aren’t always emphasized, so her goal is to help educate students about healthy, safe and consensual sex.

Free resources on campus

The health center provides free condoms for students to use in a variety of styles and sizes, said Maia Dean, peer health educator and public health senior.

Dean said students are sometimes wary of using free condoms, but the health center’s are the same quality as name brands. Sometimes, they’re even made by the same manufacturer.

In addition to condoms, Health Services also offers free HIV and other STD testing.

The women’s health clinic also provides free consultations to educate women on their reproductive health through testing, counseling, contraception and annual wellness exams. Women can come in before getting their first Pap smear, and the health center will help prepare them, even if they’re going to another facility, Oduniyi said.

Throughout the year, Health Services will also host events aiming to increase the conversation on sexual health, she said.

Sexual health shouldn’t be taboo and should be discussed whenever overall health is considered, she said.

“We want you to zoom in on your sexual health,” she said. “Give it some more attention, just like you would [for] what you’re eating for dinner or if you’re going to exercise.”

@reeseoxner

news-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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