F riday night. Bass rhythm. Tight jeans. Dim lighting. Perfect. Cold beers, smooth shots. One after another8212;after another. The room spins faster and faster. … And then it fades away. From dead sleep to pounding headache. Then it hits: uncertainty, fear. What the hell happened last night?
If a student blacks out and wakes up with no recollection of the night before, they might not know what to do. And it’s not as uncommon as one might think. More than 10 percent of TCU students who responded to the 2010 CORE Alcohol & Drug Survey said they had been taken advantage of sexually while under the influence.
Yvonne Giovanis, associate director of the Alcohol and Drug Education Center, said because of the correlation between alcohol and sexual activity, it’s important that students are given the tools to make informed decisions about their sexual health while in college.
And there are a lot of decisions to be made. According to the CDC, seven out of 10 Americans are sexually active by their 19th birthday and half of all Americans will contract a sexually transmitted infection in their lifetime. Some infections such as HPV, chlamydia, hepatitis and pelvic inflammatory disease may have no outward symptoms but if left untreated can lead to infertility, liver disease and cancer.
There is no comprehensive program to address sexual health on campus, Giovanis said, so the Alcohol and Drug Education Center, Health Center and Campus Life all provide resources for students.
But according to a team of researchers studying sexual health on campuses for Trojan condoms, it may not be enough.
Trojan ranked TCU 121 out of 141 universities last year. The annual “report card” evaluates health center hours and procedures, range and cost of services, access to anonymous advice and frequency of sexual health programming, such as sexual assault defense.
Bert Sperling, president of the independent firm that conducted the research, said availability of online information was important because students are likely to turn to the Internet for guidance.
But the most important measure, he said, is how openly the campuses communicate with students about sexual issues.
“Some schools don’t feel it’s their business to discuss students’ sexual activity,” Sperling said. “Other schools feel it’s part of students’ health and they want to provide as much information as possible, even though it might be sort of awkward.”
Alex Cutler, a senior religion and anthropology major, said the university should be more open about sexual health.
“Talking about sex is very, very quiet on campus,” Cutler said. “Unless you’re in an actual class that deals with sex, they don’t want to talk about it. And then afterwards, they don’t want to talk about it much.”
Senior theater major Katie Caruso said she didn’t feel like it was being talked about enough even with the medical staff on campus.
“I’ve been to the Health Center and I didn’t get a lot of counseling,” she said. “I got kind of shuffled in and out, so it’s a very wham-bam process.”
Sean Halloran, a junior nursing major, said attitudes toward openness begin before students arrive on campus, but still sexual health is not being taught on campus.
“I think that may have something to do with the conservative nature of Texas,” he said. “And I think it’s definitely something that needs to be talked about much more often.”
This year’s ranking marked the lowest in a steady decline from 78 in 2006, 108 in 2008 and 121 out of 141 in 2010. The university ranked only slightly higher than Texas Tech (122) and Baylor (123).
Rice and UT Austin made the top 25.
Johnnie Ireland, the women’s health nurse practitioner at the center, said she speaks to groups on campus about sexual health, but only upon request, and invitations from fraternities, sororities and residence halls have steadily decreased in recent years.
Karen Bell Morgan, assistant dean of Campus Life, said when she attended TCU, programs were available through her sorority, but she doesn’t feel like it is as common as it was when she was a student.
There are university-sponsored programs such as Sexual Responsibility Week and Safe Spring Break, as well as an annual V-Day reading of the Vagina Monologues, meant to raise awareness about sexual health and violence against women and rape aggression defense classes through the TCU Police.
But Madison Pate, a sophomore social work major, said sex education programming is too few and far between on campus. Pate said the only experience that really made a difference to her was a semester-long course called Health Aspects of Human Sexuality.
She said she didn’t know what to expect, but the class turned out to be an eye-opening experience that helped students understand their own sexual health, and share that knowledge with their friends.
Rita Cotterly, adjunct faculty in the kinesiology department, teaches the human sexuality course and said the ultimate objective of the class is to elicit a change in students’ behavior, not only with contraceptives and condoms, but also in their character and relationships.
“My whole objective in a human sexuality class is sexual health,” she said. “And sexual health is the integration. They’re trying to integrate their bodies, their minds, their spirits8212;everything.”
The class explores positive and negative consequences of sex, as well as body image, relationships, identity, spirituality, culture and values.
“I tell them it is easier to memorize everything about STIs and make an A on a test than to always use a condom,” she said. “It is easier to memorize everything about contraceptives and pass the test than to have an unplanned pregnancy.”
Dr. Jane Torgerson, medical director of the Health Center, said she doesn’t think the Trojan Condom rankings represent what the campus has to offer students. No one in her office remembers receiving an invitation to participate. The center gets a lot of mail, and she said it could have just been overlooked and thrown in the trash.
Torgerson said the main reason the university was ranked so poorly was because of the website.
“After we talked [to Sperling] I looked on our website and some things are hard to find. And what we offer, half the stuff isn’t there,” Torgerson said. “I know he begged to differ, but I think the report card is so bad because what he can find online isn’t the whole story.”
Torgerson said the Health Center is updating its website and making changes in some of the areas that are addressed by the survey.
Sean Halloran said he thinks there are resources available at TCU but nobody knows what they are.
He said being up-front and making a genuine effort to promote healthy choices would go a long way to improving the communication deficit that leaves the university lagging in sexual health.