Columns

Sarah Yu ’11: Actually, let’s talk about sex

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I spent my formative adolescent years at an absurdly secular and progressive educational institution. One very important thing that my school’s curriculum did to prepare me for my journey into the real world was provide honest, effective and informative sex education.

Some of my contemporaries may argue that frankness in educating young people on such a sensitive issue as sex will lead to hyper-sexuality and bad decisions made by young people with plenty of hormones. I beg to differ — in fact, after being shown the banana demonstration at least twice a year for six years, the prospect of sex didn’t even seem exciting anymore.

After arriving at Brown, I found myself amongst a group of students from all different educational backgrounds. A conversation with some friends way back in freshman year somehow transformed into a discussion of our experiences with sex education. I was surprised to hear that many of my friends, mostly international students, had never been exposed to the rigorous sex talk that I had taken for granted. Many of them did not even know about the fundamental basics of safe sex.

It was interesting and refreshing to read the opinion that Yue Wang ’12 advocates in her column “Let’s talk about love” (Oct. 15). While I agree with her on the issue of the empty, unconstructive and worrisome nature of casual, rather than meaningful, sex, I think that Wang’s take on the multitude of sex-oriented lectures, discussions and events at Brown is skewed.

It is probably safe to assume that young people between the ages of 18 and 22 have more than just a passing interest in sex, and that social contexts such as fraternity parties, bars and clubs on “college night” do provide the perfect opportunity for students to participate in some liberal experimentation. However, FemSex workshops, Sex Week and Post- magazine columns should not be seen as expressions of Brown students’ overwhelming desire to engage only in casual sex, or that we prioritize sex above emotion. Rather, I welcome the existence of such liberal forums for the discussion of sex as it shows that Brown students, for the most part, are accepting of and comfortable about discussing sex in the first place.

What Wang would like to reform with regards to sex-related events on campus is not sex education; it is sexuality education. Sex education as I see it focuses on the necessary aims of teaching curious young people (especially when they are around other curious young people) the importance of safe sex, and bringing everyone up to the same level of education about such issues. Sex education, with its hard facts about health and safety, does not conflict with romance. Instead, it gives students some vital information and preparation about self-protection and self-awareness in a, as Wang puts it, “young and libidinal population.”

I do believe that Brown has a lot to improve on this front — for an institution that holds diversity so dearly to it heart, there is very little acknowledgment that not every student comes to Brown with the same liberal ideas and same level of safe sex knowledge. It would be wrong to assume that the more liberal sex-oriented forums on campus cater equally to all Brown students.

Many of the students the FemSex and Post- columns target are those who have already been sex-educated in liberated ways, but not those who still need to learn how to be comfortable with talking about safe sex. Students who are in most need of safe sex education continue to remain without the necessary knowledge of the fundamentals.

Perhaps the University can and should play a larger role in ensuring that the gap between students’ levels of sex education is narrowed. While there are resources available to students through Residential Life and Health Services, Brown does not have a college-wide, middle school style compulsory lecture on the fundamentals of safe sex. Every freshmen at Brown goes through compulsory orientation lectures on alcohol use/abuse, slavery and sexual assault, but a safe sex seminar doesn’t exist in any similar capacity. As I mentioned earlier, I identified international students as a group in which students have the largest divergences and differences in sex education prior to arriving at Brown. A safe sex workshop during international students’ orientation can go a long way in ensuring that these students can feel more comfortable if they ever accidentally stumble upon a roommate’s FemSex homework.

It will be difficult to reconcile love, sex and relationships as long as there is a divergence within the student body with regards to the degree of sex education received. After we all feel comfortable talking about safe sex, we’ll all be on the same page when we’re talking about love, too.

Sarah Yu ’11 enjoys going to the Graduate Center Bar not because of the prospects of casual sex, but because there is good beer, good company, a pool table and a safe atmosphere. She can be reached there in person, or via email at xia_yu@brown.edu.