Last summer, I spent an agonizing 15 days, 8 hours and 17 minutes completing a general chemistry preparatory course called Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces, or ALEKS. I went into ALEKS thinking it would be like driver’s ed — easy to game. Instead, I found myself poring over the text and repeatedly watching the videos to pass all 234 topic quizzes. Because of this rigorous program, everyone was proficient in the fundamentals of chemistry before the first day of class.
I did not see the same rate of proficiency among UT students when it came to sexual health.
In the first few weeks after Gone to Texas, which were rife with back to school parties, I heard stories from friends about their unsafe sex practices — not using condoms, neglecting to leave space at the tip of a condom, not knowing how or where to get tested for STIs, etc.
In Texas, high school sex education fails to inform students about sex. According to the Texas Freedom Network, one fourth of Texas public school districts did not offer any form of sex education in the 2015-2016 school year, and about 60 percent of them taught abstinence-based sex ed. This substandard education follows students into college.
An overwhelming number of students are unaware of safe sex practices. A 2017 UT survey reports that 50.4 percent of students either didn’t know about contraception or didn’t think it was applicable to vaginal intercourse.
Because so many UT students lack sexual health awareness, the University should offer comprehensive sex education through online learning modules to fill the gap.
UT requires incoming students to complete Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates (SAPU), but this program mainly covers topics related to sexual violence instead of sexual health. While these topics are essential to a complete sex education, they are only one part of sexual awareness.
Health promotion coordinator Mandy Colbert oversees the SAPU modules as they pertain to incoming students.
“It’s federally mandated that all incoming students take these modules,” said Colbert. “We don’t create these modules. We purchase them from an approved vendor.”
In addition to promoting SAPU, University Health Services also provides sexual health workshops, online resources and safe sex supplies. In these resources, a thorough range of topics are covered, including but not limited to contraception, reproductive anatomy and consent.
But these resources are optional, and as with most optional resources, some students will not take advantage of them. A comprehensive curriculum regarding sexual health needs to be developed and enforced so that all students have the opportunity to make informed decisions about sex.
“Sexual health is so important and we do our best to encourage students to educate themselves through us, but requiring programs of 11,000 students is not easy. Building a new program like this would take a lot of work and coordination,” Colbert said.
Implementing a new program of this nature is a daunting task, but it is worth the effort.
UT should mandate a comprehensive sexual education program similar to ALEKS to ensure that students can talk about their sexual health as confidently as they can rattle off all the polyatomic ions.
Dronamraju is a public health freshman from Dallas.