Today is Valentine’s Day. No matter how you feel about this “holiday” — whether you love it, hate it or try to forget about it — Feb. 14 usually makes us think about love. And, even though the two are not necessarily or always related, love often makes us think about sex.
Most college students, however, do not confine their sex-related thoughts to this single day in February. Sex is a part of college — whether you’re having it or not. You may be waiting until marriage, but your roommate may not even wait until you leave the room. Sex is an inevitable part of our four years here.
It is important, therefore, that we are conscious of and educated about not just sex, but our sexual health in general. A recent survey on the topic of student life conducted by the SGA found that 58.3 percent of respondents had never thought about getting tested for STIs. Testing is available at Parton Health Center, but only 5.64 percent of respondents had taken advantage of this option.
There are various explanations for these somewhat jarring statistics. Some students may not be aware of the resources that Parton has to offer or may be dissatisfied with care they have received at Parton in the past. Other students may find the idea of getting tested embarrassing. Some students are also concerned about cost of the tests themselves, which range from just $6 to test for syphilis to $25 to test for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Yet another possible explanation may be the “Middlebury Bubble.” Middlebury allows its students the opportunity to pursue intellectual enlightenment with little distraction of the problems of the “outside” world. We read about catastrophes and violence in the news, but at Middlebury, it can sometimes feel like these problems do not affect us — that we are invincible.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Middlebury students are not invincible. And as a campus charged with sexually active 18 to 22 year olds, Middlebury is especially not invincible to STIs.
Middlebury is not invulnerable to violence, either. While the fact that 89 percent of respondents to the SGA’s survey claimed to “feel very safe on campus and never think about safety as a problem,” can be construed as a positive indicator of life at the College, it also may demonstrate a lack of awareness of certain aspects of campus life.
For example, the above statistic may overshadow the harsh fact that sexual assaults do occur on our campus. While most students here feel very safe, this is not the case for all students. Given this situation, it is alarming that 35 percent of survey respondents had little knowledge of the on-campus resources available to victims of sexual assault. As a community, it is important that we remain aware of and sensitive to the issues — both physical and mental — that are a reality for some of our friends and peers, if not for ourselves. As students on a campus where sexual assault exists, we are all responsible for educating ourselves.
Clearly, we are primarily responsible for our own sexual health. Part of that responsibility includes taking advantage of the resources the College has to offer beyond just the health center. Educate yourself on the newly enhanced Sexual Assault policy, which expands the definitions of consent and substantial impairment. Reflect on the message of yesterday’s One Billion Rising event. Talk to members of the Student Wellness Committee about initiatives you would like to see on campus. Pay attention to the “It Happens Here” display in the Davis Family Library.
While it is important that students take advantage of these resources in order to be accountable for their own sexual health, we also urge the College to place greater importance on this issue. It has been a year and a half since the resignation of Jyoti Daniere, and we are still without a director of health and wellness. Forums and lectures on the topic of safe sex and sexual assault are largely nonexistent or reach limited audiences past first-year orientation. What kind of message is the College communicating in terms of valuing the sexual health of its students?
Our sexuality is inseparable from our whole being. Therefore, our sexual health cannot be ignored. STIs and sexual assault exist on campus. Increased sexual health programming, along with greater student accountability and responsibility, will ensure that the College and its students give sexual health the attention it deserves.