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Monday, February 6, 2023

Health 4-1-1

College women confront lack of sex education


While many used to whisper and giggle about sex as children, it becomes less of a laughing matter as they mature. Students realize that having sex introduces the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy or STDs.

But a study recently conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 42 percent of unmarried women between the ages of 18 and 29 years old said they knew little about birth control pills.

“I’ve probably only had a handful of mostly female students … who’ve come in to ask about sexual health stuff, like contraceptives or pregnancy concerns, things of that nature,” said Malkia Hutchinson, program coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center.

Hutchinson said she’s had a student come in to speak with her who knew nothing about safe sex, contraceptives or condoms, let alone healthy sexuality, sexual tension and sexual pleasure.

“We have a little handout that we give about different types of contraceptives, from the pill all the way down to an IUD … so I gave her that and referred her over to the student health center, and we have a lot of condoms, dental dams (and) internal and external condoms, so I did a demonstration with her and showed her how to use those,” Hutchinson said.

One female student feels that the percentage of women who aren’t aware of their options is not surprising, but has little to do with information about birth control being hard to come by. Rather, she says that people simply aren’t as comfortable talking about other contraception methods as they are about condoms.

“I used to be on birth control for other medical reasons, but I’m not since I’ve been properly diagnosed,” said advertising junior Gabrielle Wallace. “I don’t think it’s hard to get information about birth control or obtain birth control. Information about birth control is everywhere, but I don’t think it’s as voiced or as accepted as condoms. Some people still think birth control is an abortion pill.

“I also think people are getting mixed signals. In movies, you don’t hear anyone during a sex scene say, ‘Oh let me take my pill,’ or, ‘Yes, I took my pill today.’ People see commercials and hear about the many benefits of birth control but ignore the facts.”

In response to the result of their survey, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has launched a website, www.besiders.org, geared specifically toward this age group.

It features much of the same information that can be found at the Women’s Resource Center or even on PlannedParenthood.org, but in a much more user-friendly format. From informational videos about every contraceptive method available featuring female users themselves to a “guy’s guide” to understanding birth control, the website aims to change the dialogue in this demographic in a way that will make weighing the shot versus the withdrawal method just as logical as the condom question.

“What I think happens is part of the catch-22 for women,” said Beverly McPhail, director of the Women’s Resource Center. “If they decide to be sexually active and have a concrete plan, like arranging for birth control, they run the risk of being called sluts. Another part is access and cost. Some young women are still on their parents’ health plan and don’t want to be on the record of visiting a gynecologist and obtaining birth control. Other women do not plan to be sexually active, may even plan to be abstinent, and then, there again, an opportunity arises and they are unprepared.”

College-aged women often overlook long-term birth control when considering ways to protect themselves against pregnancy and STDs.

Chief physician and executive director of the UH Health Center Dr. Scott Spear said that the intrauterine device, a long-acting, reversible method of contraception that is inserted into the vagina by a doctor, was once thought to be a method of birth control only for women who had previously been pregnant.

“There hasn’t been a lot of education about it. It’s not being advertised. Many years ago, there were many concerns about the IUD’s safety; the IUD is much safer now,” Spear said.

Common brands such as Mirena, a hormonal IUD, and Paragard, a copper IUD, can be effective for up to five and 10 years respectively.

There’s also the option of using the implant Implanon, a tube placed under the skin of a woman’s upper arm that can be effective at preventing pregnancies for up to three years. The implant is 99.9 percent effective versus the IUD, which is 99 percent effective.

Only one out of 2,000 sexually active women who use the implant for one year may become pregnant, according to safeandeffective.org.

“People aren’t aware. We talk about men’s sexual health issues more than women’s sexual health and reproductive needs,” Spear said. “People in the media need to tell women, ‘there’s some good news out there.’ (And) it’s available at the UH Health Center.”

Birth control is covered under the Affordable Care Act as preventive health care, which all health insurance companies are now required to cover. These needs can also be met by purchasing student health insurance through the UH Health Center, which offers health care plans year-round.


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