Enhance sexual liberation with education

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Last month College Magazine, a student-run forum that reports on everything from football to budget cuts, crowned UT the most sexually active campus in America. Researchers examined party scenes, sexual health resources and “hookup cultures” to compile the rather crassly titled “10 Most DTF Campuses” list. Alejandra Saragoza, the article’s author and a University of California, Santa Barbara senior, claims “the 50,000+ students at UT-Austin know how to party — and get it on.” Among those keeping UT company on the list are second-ranked Arizona State University, two Florida public universities and even prestigious — and formerly all-women’s — Vassar College.

One can imagine the hormone-fueled whoops and winks that this report incited among UT students, but the ranking is not without its dark side. While the University of Florida and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor get kudos for their students’ high levels of sexual education and safety, Saragoza cites statistics on Austin’s high pregnancy and STI rates to prove that Longhorns score off the field as much as they score on it.

Although a lively carnal culture is not inherently bad — in fact The Huffington Post dubs UT the “most sexually liberated” campus rather than the “most DTF” — it appears that UT students are not only the most sexually active but also the most sexually uneducated. The report does mention high condom sales at UT, but the other statistics imply that contraceptives are not being properly or regularly used.

Certainly, much of the blame for the pregnancy and STI rates falls on the dubious Texas tradition of abstinence-only sex education in public schools. Thanks to this unrealistic curriculum, incoming freshmen may remain largely unaware of the risks of unprotected sexual acts and mystified by the nuances of contraceptives, including the condom and birth control pill. A more pragmatic sexual education program in middle and high schools as well as a mandatory online course similar to AlcoholEdu for UT freshmen would undoubtedly improve the worrying statistics cited in the article.

However, the University already offers a wide range of sexual health resources and educational services. If students wish to participate in the campus hookup culture, they should first take responsibility for their own well-being and seek out relevant information and tools. Misguided sexual education curricula don’t override basic decision-making skills, and personal responsibility is critical to the enjoyment of all the perks that come with adulthood.

In addition to its poor reflection on sexual education and judgment, the report places UT in a curious position with regard to the current debate over accessibility of sexual health resources. According to a recent UT and Texas Tribune poll, the vocally anti-birth control Rick Santorum is the favorite Republican presidential candidate among Texans. UT’s rather easy-going sexual atmosphere, however, stands in direct contrast to this strait-laced conservatism and implies that the youth of Texas may not share our forebears’ sexual traditionalism. At the very least, it is clear that Santorum’s proposed restrictions on birth control and sexual health resources would do nothing to curtail pregnancy and STI rates.

We should not forget that sexual liberation, despite its unsavory consequences, is still a form of freedom and shouldn’t be unilaterally condemned. However, a reputation for unplanned pregnancies and STIs should embarrass rather than excite UT students. The responsibility for lowering those rates falls both on individual students and on state and national lawmakers. A concerted effort to educate college students and younger generations can keep UT’s reputation for merriment intact while minimizing the negative consequences of sexual liberation.

Oliver is an English and sociology freshman.