November 11, 2014

Students Seek Expanded Sexual Health Resources

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Though Gannett Health Services provides several sexual health resources to Cornellians — including counseling and medical help — some students say the University should increase efforts to reduce the cost of sexual health treatments and raise consent awareness.

Because the Cornell community has a diverse array of students, faculty and staff, Gannett works to address these needs in different ways, according to Barbara Jastran, clinical counselor at Gannett.

“I think a lot of students are interested in learning about sexual health,” Jastran said. “They’re at a time in their life when some of them learn and want to know.”

However, Yamini Bhandari ’17, vice president for outreach and women’s representative for the Student Assembly, said she thinks Gannett needs to increase initiatives to teach students about the importance of sexual consent.

“The need for sexual education, I think, needs to focus on the idea of consent,” she said. “ConsentEd and [the] Every1 [Campaign] have done a good job utilizing social media to do this, butseeing greater efforts from Gannett would be a great resource.”

Bhandari added she believes the stigma about sexual assault may deter students from reporting cases.

“I think the primary concern for a lot of women is that there is a lot of stigma and misinformation about what the reporting process is actually like,” Bhandari said.

“I’d like to see Gannett work closely with the [Judicial Administrator] to help people really understand what it to report an incident of sexual violence.”

Juliana Batista ’16, executive vice president of the S.A., said she believes that Gannett should focus more on increasing the affordability of its sexual health resources.

“The unfortunate part about Gannett is that not all of their services are accessible or low cost,” Batista said. “HIV testing and pregnancy testing are expensive. Students prefer to go to planned parenthood in Ithaca instead to get those services –– and why wouldn’t they if they could get the transportation to the Commons.”

As a clinical counselor, Jastran said she works with students concerning these issues.

“When I look at sexuality, I look at it as a big umbrella with all these components under- neath,” Jastran said. “Having sex is just one small component under this huge umbrella.”

Jastran added that other components of the umbrella include issues such as readiness to be in a relationship and to be sexually active, as well as one’s understanding of their own anatomy.

“I’m working with students on issues around dating, trying to understand their readiness to be in a relationship or not,” Jastran said. “[And] sometimes … a lot of people aren’t quite sure how their own body func- tions or what should be happen- ing in a sexual situation.”

As an integrated medical facility, Gannett enables stu- dents to receive referrals to the professional that best fits their needs, according to Jennifer Austin, health communications specialist at Gannett Health Services.

“Because Gannett offers integrated health services, someone could start on the medical side, but get a referral to a counselor,” Austin said. “Someone could start talking with a counselor and realize there are some health issues that need to be attended to with a medical health provider.”

Students may hold misperceptions about the amount of sex that is happening around them, Austin added.

“We know from lots of surveys that students tend to over- estimate how much sex other students are having,” Austin said. “So they’re likely to feel that there’s something wrong with them or different about them if they’re not sexually active, even when there’s a very large proportion of students who are not sexually active.”

In addition to education, counseling and medical services surrounding contraception and sexual health, Gannett also offers resources for students who may encounter unplanned pregnancies.

“Some students are eager to become parents [while] some struggle with fertility,” Austin said. “Others do not want to become pregnant at this time in their lives. A small number of students receive positive pregnancy tests at Gannett each year. Some are delighted by the news; others are not.”

Austin added that Gannett provides many options to pre- vent unplanned pregnancies.

“The number of unintended pregnancies is kept in check largely by the availability of safe and effective contraceptive options such as birth control pills and intrauterine devices,” Austin said. “Emergency contraception — sometimes referred to as the ‘morning after pill’ — also helps reduce the number of such pregnancies.”

Once a student has a confirmed pregnancy, intended or unintended, Gannett works to provide them with resources to help with their next step, according to Austin.

“All students whose pregnancy tests are positive at Gannett are offered the opportunity to speak with our clinical counselor to discuss pregnancy options — parenting, adoption, termination — and connect with appropriate resources in the Ithaca community, their home town, or wherever they desire,” Austin said.