WHY I AM A STUDENT FOR SEXUAL HEALTH
By Matt Mazzari
It’s no secret that Catholic-affiliated universities in America struggle with open discussions of sexuality on their campuses. The fundamental discomfort that religious educational administrations feel regarding issues such as contraception, STI prevention and pre-marital sexual activity in general make it difficult for students at places like my own school, Boston College, to have the oh-so-very important conversations about birth control and sexual health that are oh-so-very relevant to university life.
Of course, acknowledging that these unnecessary taboos exist isn’t to say that progressive conversation isn’t happening anyway. At BC, students simply find outlets for discussions of sexuality on our own. Just a few weeks ago, a theatre group of female undergraduates put on three full-house performances of The Vagina Monologues. Before that, I saw the LGBTQ allies of BC flood an anti-marriage equality lecture on campus with their assertively-tolerant presence. This semester, I’m taking a course titled “Spirituality and Sexuality” with an openly gay professor wherein my classmates are talking about their own experiences with sex and its relevance (positive and negative) to their religious lives.
Just because certain members of the administration aren’t appreciative of how important these issues are doesn’t mean that the students are going to be silent about them. The simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority (approximately 75%) of U.S. college students are sexually active, and religious institutions like Boston College are not some miraculous exception.
So yes, students here generally recognize the importance of sexual health to at least some extent. And it makes sense, right? A constant topic of controversy for BC is the “hook-up culture”, which students and external perspectives alike have described as being especially pervasive on this campus; any statistically literate person can tell you that this social scene in combination with a lack of sexual health awareness programs is a recipe for disaster, particularly when you consider the fact that 1 in 2 sexually active people will contract an STD by the age of 25. In a survey from 2009, about 90% of BC students answered in support of having access to contraceptive resources, i.e. condoms, available on campus. It’s pretty clear where the student body (pun-intended) stands on this matter of promoting sexual health.
But if we’re basically all in agreement, why is having a group like the Students for Sexual Health so important at BC?
Personally, I became a part of SSH relatively late; I’m a senior now, and I only went to my first meeting last semester. I’d seen them handing out condoms at the corner of College Road and Hammond Street since I was a freshman living on Upper Campus. I remember hearing about the “incidents”: the counter-activism from conservative clubs on campus, the frequent harassment they dealt with from the campus police, or that one time they got yelled at by a priest during condom distribution outside of McElroy. But despite being aware of the problem and the ludicrous knock-back SSH was encountering, it wasn’t really until this year that it dawned on me that progress just doesn’t seem to be coming along fast enough.
Just look at the political sphere! Backwards opinions on sexual health aren’t exclusive to Catholic university campuses: since the Affordable Care Act was passed in March of 2010, one of the central controversies has been the coverage of birth control as part of health expenses. Because, I guess, sexual health isn’t a part of…health? By last year, nearly a hundred federal lawsuits had been filed specifically in opposition to ACA’s birth control benefits. The Supreme Court has recently ceded to the demands of several Catholic Organizations regarding this issue. For instance, the owners of a company named Hobby Lobby, a for-profit Arts and Crafts material-supplier with no open religious affiliation, successfully argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) grants them exemption from providing their employees with birth control insurance based solely on their own religious beliefs.
I’m sorry, but what?!
How in the name of all that is reasonable does a corporation justify denying its employees federally-guaranteed health care on the basis of the CEO’s personal religion? So, even though 99% of sexually-active women report having used birth control, that medical expense somehow doesn’t count? The owners of an Arts and Crafts company just have to say “We think the Pill was invented by Satan” and then they automatically don’t have to provide the women in their company with medical coverage they obviously need? Should we also take away insurance coverage of blood transfusions if a company owner is part of Jehovah’s Witness? Should we take away people’s chemo treatment if their manager believes exclusively in faith-healing? The fact that President Obama and Congress are entertaining these demands is extremely unsettling. Not only does this fly in the face of everything that a national health care plan is supposed to be, it perpetuates an attitude towards young persons’ sexuality (female sexuality in particular) that is incredibly dangerous and wrongheaded, resulting in the continued high-rates of accidental pregnancies, VD transmission, and general ignorance that have proven to be problematic in the past.
So that’s why I’m a part of this club, SSH. It’s not because I’m pessimistic about my campus or the students’ attitude here at BC; it’s not because I believe in anything more radical than “everyone should know how to have protected sex”; it’s not even because I want the federal government to provide Americans with anything beyond what it has already agreed to provide. It’s because the opponents to programs like SSH are still so vocal and powerful, and there is still such a long way to go. When our country finally reaches the point where it has covered that distance in sexual education and provision of necessary resources, I want to be able to say I was a part of that movement, that I was a Student for Sexual Health.