October 11, 2006

Monitoring Sex at C.U.

Print More

Think of your three best friends. Statistically speaking, one of them has genital herpes. And if not … it may be you.
To help students decrease the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, both the University’s Gannett Health Services and independent student-based organizations seek to promote on-campus sexual health, but despite their similar goals, the two disagree on just how well Cornell has raised awareness of safe sex practices among students.
Although no recent official study of Cornell students’ sexual behavior exists, the CORE Alcohol and Drug survey administered on campus in fall 2005 indicates that 51.2 percent of students had engaged in sexual intercourse within the past year. While the survey was issued to only 5,000 students, it suggests the increasing importance of promoting on-campus sexual awareness.
At Gannett, a student can acquire information from sex pamphlets, on topics ranging from sexual diseases, contraceptive use and AIDS testing, to homosexually, rape and birth control. Gannett’s clinical counseling and support services — available 24 hours a day — as well as its website, also provide sexual health information.
Gannett’s two student-run groups, ZONE and Real Education About Cornell Health (REACH) hold events on Ho Plaza and give presentations to students, in which they distribute condoms and sexual lubricant. Gannett gives out close to 3,000 free condoms a year to students, according to Gannett Health Educator Nina Cummings.
Besides Gannett, the independent Students Health Awareness Group (SHAG) aims to “promote sexual health awareness throughout the college campus by encompassing the concrete issues of contraception, STIs and sexual assault, as well as try to remove the stigmas associated with sex and sexuality,” according to SHAG president Risa Yavorsky ’07.
To achieve this goal, SHAG holds a variety of workshops to fraternities and sororities, freshman dormitories and athletic teams.
Another student group, SAFE, also promotes sexual awareness, but focuses more on AIDS prevention. SAFE places condoms in the bathrooms of various Collegetown bars every Thursday night.
But just how well does Cornell raise awareness of sexual health compared to other universities?
Last month, Trojan Brand Condoms released results on its website of its Sexual Health Report Card for 100 colleges around the U.S. According to the Trojan website, colleges were graded on the following criteria: “Informative and helpful Web site; condom advice and availability, contraception advice and availability; HIV & STD testing; sexual assault counseling and services; advice column or Q&A feature for sexual issues or relationships; counseling services; peer counseling, campus events, and other outreach.”
Grades for each category were then calculated into a grade point average. For example, Yale University received a 4.0 GPA and was considered the number one most sexually aware school in the US, while Brigham Young University received a 0.0 GPA and was considered the worst among the schools surveyed.
Annually, Yale holds their Sex Week at Yale (SWAY) program which encourages students to engage in on-campus discussions about sex and relationships.
Some believe Cornell hasn’t reached this level of sexual openness.
Cornell has a “far way to go to reach the level of Yale … Yale is a role model for sexual education,” Yavorsky said. She added that while information about sex is available on campus, she does not believe it is publicized enough.
Gannett’s Cummings, however, believes that Cornell is doing an above-average job with regard to sexual awareness. Cummings said the University had previously implemented programs like SWAY, but that it was not an effective method to inform Cornell’s large and diverse student body.
“What may work for Yale, which has a smaller student body, may not work for Cornell,” she said.
Cummings said that Cornell now tries to decentralize their programs to attract specific groups such as the Greek system, African American group, Latinos and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Recently, the Latino community contacted Gannett and asked for help planning a sexual awareness presentation.
Through this method, “sexual awareness isn’t only a one week long program and then left in the backburner,” Cummings said. “We need to keep students informed 365 days of the year and this method allows us to do that.”
While Cornell was not one of the schools selected for the Trojan study, Cummings believes that Cornell would have ranked in the top five or ten most sexually aware schools.
“Cornell offers comprehensive, integrated sexual health services to individuals on campus and has been doing so for decades,” she said.