The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

“The Talk”: Raising questions about sex on a Catholic campus

Talking about sex on a Jesuit campus may seem taboo. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

According to the latest data, from 2009, in the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) data reported by the American College Health Association, 64.9 percent of Marquette students reported being sexually active within the last 12 months, a statistic below the 2011 national
average of 70.8 percent.

Marquette students are also less likely to use contraceptives. Nationally in 2011, about 56.8 percent of college students reported using a method of contraception the last time they had intercourse, while only 50 percent of Marquette students reported doing the same in 2009.

Additionally, four percent of Marquette students reported being diagnosed or treated by a professional for an STD or STI within the last 12 months. Nationally, about 5.1 percent of college students reported the same.

Amy Melichar, coordinator of health education and promotion, said she does not know why Marquette students are less likely to be sexually active.

“Marquette students are just like any other college student,” Melichar said.

Due to Marquette’s Catholic affiliation, the university and Student Health Services do not supply or prescribe contraception to students. All Catholic-affiliated medical institutions comply with Catholic bishops’ ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services. The Catholic Church considers it morally wrong to prevent conception by any artificial means, including the use of condoms, IUDs, birth control pills and sterilization.

A study conducted by the reproductive health institute, Guttmacher, found that nationally 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use or have used birth control other than church approved natural family planning. According to NCHA data, about one percent of Marquette students, reported experiencing an unintentional pregnancy themselves or unintentionally getting someone else pregnant within the last 12 months, while in 2011 nationally 1.8 percent of college students experienced the same.

Melichar said supplying contraceptives is not the only option for college campuses.

“Handing out condoms is not the end-all-be-all to sexual health,” Melichar said.

She said health education plays a large role in the sexual health of a campus. The Center for Health Education and Promotion creates outreach programs for Marquette students about sexual health. The programs include Sex @ 7, AIDS Doesn’t Discriminate, Healthy Relationships 101 and sexual violence awareness week.

All of the programs uphold Catholic values across campus from the Center for Health Education and Promotion to Student Health Service to Campus Ministry.

Steve Blaha, assistant director of campus ministry, said the Catholic Church teaches that sex is for marriage and a gift for bringing life into the world. He also said the use of contraceptives blocks healthy reproduction.

Last month, President Barack Obama made the decision that the new health care law will require insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control and that may be extended to students. The new law is putting Catholic institutions at odds with wanting to provide proper health care but not wanting to give contraceptives.

“We are inherently pro-health but the vision of human sexuality that the government is promoting violates our beliefs,” Blaha said.

Blaha said he doesn’t want students to feel shut out in discussions about sex.

“There are good reasons why the Catholic community wants to reserve sex for marriage,” Blaha said. “We want to have an engaged conversation.”

Blaha has been a part of the different sexual education programs on campus. He said students’ focus during the sessions varies. Some have wanted to talk about the physiology of sex and basic anatomy. In talks with students, Blaha said he tries to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a sexual being?”

“We want students to feel free to ask questions,” Blaha said. “Some students have not gotten (sex education) in school and they don’t know basic sex functions.”

However, Blaha said he wants to start more discussions about the hook-up culture on campus as he believes this type of relationship is never going to satisfy someone.

Jacqueline Blake, a junior in the College of Health Sciences, hosted a Sex @ 7 night at Carpenter Tower. The open-forum style session tried to debunk false information surrounding sex and sexuality.

Blake said in an email that she organized the program because she feels people need a safe environment for their questions to be answered.

“People really do want to talk and ask questions, but there are not enough opportunities to have those conversations,” Blake said.

Blake said she thinks Student Health Service has improved this year around the issue of sexual health although it can be developed further. She is currently planning another program for Cobeen Hall.

“I realized that students really want to have the conversations and to be open about their sexuality, and from what I observed, they are very comfortable and mature in their questions and answers to each other,” Blake said.

Because there are only so many forums to talk, the line between healthy interactions and sexual violence becomes blurred, said Sue Cooper, coordinator of sexual violence and advocacy services. Cooper said during sexual violence awareness trainings students have said they need to know more about sexual health before they can learn about sexual violence. Being able to distinguish between a hook-up and sexual violence and being able to communicate your expectations is important.

She said her goal is to create a healthy and safe campus.

“It confuses students on a lot of levels,” Cooper said. “You need a clearly communicated yes, not the absence of no.”

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