University News

Trojan Condoms ranks U. second in sexual health

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2012

 

When it comes to sexual health, Brown likes it on top. 

Trojan Condoms released their annual Sexual Health Report Card last week, ranking Brown at the number two spot, up from fourth last year and fifth in 2010.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was ranked first, ascending from second place last year following a big jump from 64th place in 2010. Brown took the win in the Ivy League, with Columbia falling from the top of last year’s list to third, trailed by Princeton in fourth and the University of Wisconsin at Madison in fifth. Nearby Providence College, as well as Brigham Young University and the U.S. Air Force Academy took the three botttom spots in the rankings, respectively. 

The survey is sponsored by Trojan Condoms and conducted by Sperling’s BestPlaces. Analysts collected data regarding the availability of sexual health services and resources at 141 schools, starting with the largest schools in the country and drawing schools from each U.S. sports conference. “By choosing the largest schools, the schools in our study count for over one-third of the students enrolled in four-year colleges in the United States,” said Bert Sperling, lead analyst at Sperling’s BestPlaces

Schools were ranked on a scale of one to 10 in 11 categories regarding the availability of sexual health information, services and resources such as forms of contraception and sexually transmitted infections testing. Health center representatives from each school were asked to fill out a survey with questions regarding the categories listed, and the rest of the data – such as health center hours and services – was collected from the schools’ health center websites and through comprehensive web searches that look for other related groups and services available at schools. 

The survey used to include student input collected through Facebook, back “when Facebook was used primarily by students,” Sperling said. His team no longer contacts students, but he is still confident the survey’s results mirror students’ experiences. “We found that the student opinions closely mirrored the results of our research of each school’s online resources and responses from the student health centers,” he said.

Two of the categories in the calculation carry more weight than others. The category of “website organization, accessibility and comprehensiveness” counts double. “If we can’t find (information) from our offices, of course, students won’t be able to find it from their dorm rooms when they need it,” Sperling explained. Condom availability, cited by Sperling as one of the most important components of sexual health, also counts double. These are a few “tweaks” in the scoring that Sperling cited as making the survey more reflective of overall sexual health services at schools. 

What is not taken into account by the quantitative methods employed by the survey, is the atmosphere of openness regarding sex and sexual health here at Brown, said Health Education Student Assistant Caroline Katzman ’13. “It is very sex-positive. There’s none of that ‘Just say no’ stuff. It’s a lot more about saying yes, actively consenting,” she said.

Naomi Ninneman, a health educator at Health Services, while pleased by Brown’s high ranking, also said she senses a discrepancy between the survey and what she perceives to be the case at Brown. In the category of “Lecture/outreach programs and student peer groups for sexual health education” Brown scored a six out of 10. 

“We do a fair number of outreach programs, and we support student groups,” Ninneman said. She cited supplementary and student-run programs such as Sexual Health Awareness Group, Sexual Assault Peer Education, FemSex, MSex and Sexual Health and Empowerment Council as strengths in Brown’s sexual health program. 

SHAG implemented a texting service this semester that enables students to access sexual health and relationship advice straight from their phones. Students can text questions to a SHAG hotline number and can expect a response within 24 hours. “We can’t see their name or their phone number,” Ninneman said. 

Another outreach program new this year is free, anonymous HIV testing. While testing has always been free and confidential, this is the first time it will be offered anonymously and with no appointment necessary. Testing is offered in this capacity on three dates throughout this semester, at the LGBTQ Center. The next of these testing dates is today from 1-3 p.m.  

Bita Shooshani, coordinator of sexual assault prevention and advocacy, said she was pleased to hear Brown scored a perfect 10 out of 10 in the category of “sexual assault programs, resources or services.” She pointed to the importance of Brown’s 24-hour sexual assault hotline. “What we offer on this campus, not every campus offers,” she said, stressing that the hotline is operated by Psychological Services staff. Referring to her own job title, she said, “Not every campus has (this) position.” 

Brown also excels in LGBTQ support and advocacy, said Queer Alliance Web Chair Lauren Childress ‘14.5, though this is not a category in the Trojan survey. Though Health Services doesn’t offer any LGBTQ-specific programs, Childress said “health services is pretty non-heteronormative in general, and it’s great.” She cited peer-to-peer education through SHEEC and SHAG as a main source of sexual health information for queer students on campus. 

In the past, Health Services has partnered with the LGBTQ Center to put on World AIDS Day events, and Shooshani has put on programs regarding same-sex relationship violence. While these efforts are “off to a great start,” Childress said, “Brown’s groups could be doing more to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community.”

Sperling said LGBTQ-specific elements of sexual health at schools “might be a very worthwhile thing to look at in the future as an additional category.” His team will meet to review the outcome of the survey and to plan for next year’s survey sometime in the near future.  

The survey “provides a great window for students into how their school stacks up to others,” he said. He sees it as a serv
ice to the students and the schools it reviews, citing cases in which students have taken the survey to their schools’ administrations to prove a need for better sexual health provisions on campus. 

Ninneman said the survey helps to highlight the topic of sexual health on campus and to get people talking about related issues, adding that Health Services is developing new ways to connect with students, citing the texting service and a greater presence on social media.

“We look very much to student input and needs and not so much to the Trojan survey,” she said. 

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