While Mercer students may know something about history and biology, they certainly don’t know much about sexuality, particularly their own. In an effort to find out how local sex education programs had affected the college’s student population, the VOICE conducted a survey of 50 students that showed just how ignorant much of the student body is about sex.
Of the most startling statistics: seventy-three percent of the Mercer students surveyed said they thought that HIV can spread through two people, who do not have the disease, having anal intercourse even though two uninfected people cannot spread the dissease at all. At the same time thirty percent of the students surveyed said they believe that contraceptives such as “the pill” can protect a woman against STIs, which, of course, they cannot. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic was that twenty percent of students surveyed said they had been a victim of either rape or sexual assault.
According to Professor Karen Bearce, who teaches many of the intro sections of psychology as well as human sexuality classes here at Mercer, “We still live in a world where if someone says penis or vagina that you get giggles in the class. You have 18, 19, 20, 25, 35 year-old-people that giggle at the word penis. How do you educate someone who just hearing terminology is already uncomfortable, freaked out?”
Shane Wojciechowski, a third year student, agreed with Prof. Bearce’s position that maturity level was a significant problem for Mercer students learning about sexuality saying, “It’s really the maturity level. It’s some of the kids and how much they proceed to talk about their ‘sex capades’ if you will,” he said.
Wojciechowski alsodiscussed Mercer’s mandatory Health and Physical Education classes [HPE} that remain mandatory for most majors although such classes have been phased out at most community colleges in New Jersey. Wojciechowski suggested that these classes might be one opportunity for Mercer students to learn more, but that didn’t during out to be the case from his experience.
“[Mercer] should put more into their health courses…They only talk about STIs [sexually transmitted infections] in health unless you’re taking an anatomy course,” Wojciechowski said.
According to Prof. Robert Pugh, who teaches the HPE courses, the classes include one 50 minute lecture which discusses STIs.
“We have one concept that we teach. There is no specific course [on sex ed],” said Pugh. He continued, “We probably don’t teach enough. We probably could do more. If there seemed to be a need, we could expand.”
According to Prof. Bearce, students need to be taught more than anatomy to be properly educated on all aspects of sexual health.
“We need to recognize that sex education is not just about what’s an STI and how do I get an STI. I think that’s where our students fall short…There are other aspects that go into being sexual creatures. It’s not just about ‘can I get pregnant’ or ‘can I get herpes.’ It’s how to have relationships, and how to make good decisions, and how to protect ourselves from situations that you don’t want to be in,” she said.
Last semester, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Friends (LGBTF) club sponsored Dr. Justine Marie Shuey, also known as “Juicy Justine,” to speak on campus at the end of the spring semester. According to Dr. Shuey’s website, her sexuality presentations “encompass discussions about safer sex, sexual health and wellness, consent, communication, LGBTQ issues, pleasure and more.”
According to Cat McCormack, a Liberal Arts major and LGBTF club member, who attended Juicy Justine’s presentation it included a Q&A session, a raffle for sex toys, as well as free condoms available. During the Q&A, participants were given the option to text in questions so they could remain anonymous.
“[She covered] what is normal, what is acceptable, how to safely experiment with your partner,” said McCormack.
She added that she enjoyed Juicy Justine’s presentation because it gave students a different and more relaxed atmosphere to discuss and learn about sexuality.
“Most of us had to learn sex ed from our parents or a school nurse. Either way it was uber awkward,” she said.
According to Alyssa Craft, a floral design major who is also an LGBTF club member, approximately 25 students attended the event. Both McCormack and Craft said they believe the low turnout was due in part to Mercer’s administration not letting them post the flyers which advertised the event. They said they believed the administrators had prohibited them from posting they flyers because they used the world “dildo.”
Some students on campus have a different perspective, about whether or not college is an appropriate place to teach sexual information.
“I feel like people wouldn’t really care because they probably feel they already know. They can read it online or something,” said Mercer student Sara Abbott.
While it is true that students can receive sexual education via the television or internet, Prof. Bearce said these sources can often be misleading.
“What we know about the population today is that a lot of students learn about sex through their friends or through the media, and as most of us can say, not everything we see on TV is right and not everything my best friend tells me is right,” she said.
Prof. Bearce said that having “someone available on campus 24/7 that could address sexual concerns” would be a big step in the right direction to help educate Mercer students about sexual health.
“We don’t just need a nurse that can help you figure out of if you have a disease, and it’s not just about having a counselor that can hand you a condoms and say if you’re gonna do it do it safely. It’s having knowledge and information,” she said.
As has been reported in the VOICE in the past, Mercer has no health center on campus and the staff psychologist quit last year; there is currently an interim serving in the position.
The LGBTF has made efforts to fill in the gaps. Last year they managed to get a nurse to come to campus a few times per semester. Now they are trying to start a “support group” for students who have been victims of rape, or for students who are seeking information about sexual health and don’t have anywhere else to turn.