Sex feels gender-biased among women

Johanna Pugh

For some college students, sex and contraception can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss.

It is personal; talking about sex can reveal information about a person that they do not want shared with the public.

For women in particular, openly conversing about sex and using contraceptives can be deemed inappropriate without much examination as to why.

Students and staff discuss how society traditionally holds women to a different standard when it comes to the subject of sex and contraception.

“Sex is more often attributed to the realm of males,” said Natalie Tramontano, 22, a health science major. “It’s something they are free to talk about.”

Women’s studies professor Vicki Hall noticed recently in her Mother/Woman/Person class only a few of her students were willing to open up about using birth control and how it works for them.

Hall noted this example of hesitance and uncomfortability with discussing women and contraception is a shift from what she is used to seeing and telling of how society currently regards this subject.

“I am wondering if this is now sort of socially unacceptable as a topic because it is deemed too personal,” Hall said. “One of the important demands of feminists in the 70s was physical frankness and access to information about body issues, especially those related to reproduction.”

Students explore where this perceived unacceptability of publicly acknowledging female sexuality comes from.

“It’s okay for men to be seen buying condoms whereas there has always been a social stigma surrounding women who openly express their sexuality,” Tramontano said. “It reflects the long history we have of repressing female sexuality.”

She also brings up the idea that as society progresses in its way of viewing women as individuals who need autonomy over their bodies and reproductive choices, the idea of who is “in charge of” contraceptives changes.

This treatment of the matter reflects a gender norm society places on sexuality and contraception.

“I think the idea that the guy is the one who brings the condoms is common — there’s this double standard in society,” said Jasmine Henderson, 21, nursing major and front office assistant at the Health and Wellness Promotion Center [HWPC] located on the first floor of The Well.

“I think, as a woman, it’s good to have your own contraceptives,” Henderson said. “Whether it’s birth control, condoms or whatever you choose, because [men and women] are both equally responsible for what happens.”

Safer sex practices, awareness, and accountability are not subjects restricted to any one gender.

Health educator Jennifer Burton, who works at Student Health Counseling Services in The Well, said contraception is a topic both sexually-active men and women should be educated on and proactive with.

“I think it’s important for both men and women to get information on safer sex practices. Sexually-active men and women are equally responsible for preventing STIs [sexually transmitted infections], using contraceptives and both should carry condoms,” Burton said. “One in two sexually-active people will get a STI by the age of 25, with many people not aware they have contracted the infection. Many common STIs do not have any symptoms. The good news is that all STIs are treatable and many are curable.”

Sex can be a daunting subject for anyone due to the risk of STIs and unintended pregnancies, but with the right knowledge and protection, it does not have to be.

“There are many misperceptions, misinformation, stigmas and taboos regarding sex and contraception,” Burton said. “Becoming educated about sexuality and contraception empowers students to make informed choices about their health and well-being.”

There are places to go on campus for safer sex education and guidance.

The Health and Wellness Promotion Center offers monthly “Let’s Talk About Sex” workshops, hosted by SHCS Sexuality and Reproductive Peer Health Educators, and SHCS provides testing for all STIs. Both the HWPC and the SHCS pharmacy offer a variety of contraceptives ranging from oral contraceptives and patches to condoms, intrauterine devices and more.

Near the door of the HWPC is a container of free condoms accompanied by instructional pamphlets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when used consistently and correctly, condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV and many other STIs.

“There isn’t one method of contraceptive that’s right for everyone,” Burton said. “Talking to a healthcare professional about your choices and discussing contraception with your partner can help when making a decision.”

It is not difficult to find sources to help with safer sex awareness and information on campus.

Many students may have seen the “Condom CashCab” golf cart that drives around campus and hands out free condoms. Burton said it is a program the SHCS Sexuality and Reproductive Peer Health Educators conduct as part of their goal to provide free safer sex materials and education to students.

“The peer health educators are planning on going out a few more times this semester, so be on the lookout for them,” Burton said.

As Burton and Henderson suggest, the more educated both men and women are about their bodies, the more comfortable it can be to discuss and the safer it will be moving forward.

“If you have questions or concerns, just come here to the Wellness Promotion Center,” Henderson said. “We have several interns. There is always someone here to answer questions.”

Burton said finding a health care provider, peer health educator or someone trusted to talk to, are good ways of seeking safer sex practice advice.

“It’s common that many people might feel hesitant or embarrassed to seek advice. It’s important to understand that like other health issues, sexual health concerns are an important part of our health and should be talked about and addressed,” Burton said. “There is no judgment or embarrassment in being empowered and informed about your body.”

Students and staff agree being proactive in their sex and health education is beneficial for students in the long run, regardless of how initially uncomfortable it can be for some people when approaching this matter.

“I would say that [a woman seeking safer sex advice] is doing the right thing,” Tramontano said. “Even though society is very tough on women regarding the issue of their sexuality, she should be proud of herself for seeking contraception, sex education and doing what is best for her.”