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Improving sex education for public health

This semester, Northwestern University introduced a new online course on reproductive and sexual health to provide students with accurate and accessible information they may be lacking. First-year students across the country have varying degrees of knowledge on sex, reproduction and pleasure when they enter college because of variation in middle and high school sexual education components. Janie Long, former director of the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, has noted that Duke students are not an exception to this knowledge gap. When youths between 15 and 24 years account for almost half of all STDs reported in the United States, the importance of sexual health education cannot be understated.We hope to see Duke institute a similar health course or program in the style of AlcoholEDU and Haven.

Delivering simple modules about the anatomy of sexual organs, variations in menstruation, reproduction mechanisms, signs of testicular cancer and related topics like how alcohol affects sexual performance fills gaps left by drastically more cursory middle and high school education. Even if prior schools discussed sexual health with students, the material was likely uncomfortable, the subject of jokes or simply not relevant to a student at the time. In college, however, students are more likely to receive information with fresh ears. Their questions have likely changed since they were in their mid-teens, and they are more probably sexually active.

This year, Haven was added to the required AlcoholEDU course to deal with sexual assault and healthy relationships, and in terms of implementation, a third component for first-years on sexual health would be in the best interests of our community’s public health. With or without “SexEDU,” these online education programs need to better engage students. Overwhelmingly regarded as check-the-box courses that students prefer to complete as quickly as possible with the passing exam score, pop-ups or more frequent progress quizzes should be used to keep attention raptly on the information presented. If these courses are only required once in four years, it is best to make the impressions deep.

For follow-up, a forum or message system where students could send questions about sexual health and resources to members of the CSGD, Women’s Center or Duke Student Wellness Center would go above and beyond for helping students. Additionally, programs that happen throughout the year in these campus centers should be better incentivized through funding for an Art Card of sorts for attending events that go beyond the scope of SexEDU. These centers already offer programs like “Let’s Talk About Sex” that engage students frankly and proliferate correct information to demystify these issues. Our resources should go further to promote these programs and to also inform students on topics like pleasure and gender identities that require more personal and smaller settings.

The CSGD, Women’s Center and DUWELL are further the University’s frontline in presenting students with cultural issues that affect the sexual health of students. Starting with sexual health is important, but addressing the intimately related social ill of sexual misconduct requires confronting social norms. Beyond the scope of these first-year programs is the discussion of a culture of misogyny that persists in enough pockets of campus to be a problem year after year. To improve bystander intervention, promoting the events of these centers and using existing networks like Resident Assistant meetings helps engage those who can make a difference. It should be obvious that helping students realize they have responsibility for their sexual health and physical and mental healths more broadly is good. It contributes to a shared responsibility in keeping others around them healthy.

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