This week at Princeton's annual health fair "Cirque de Sante," students found a colorful bazaar of low-fat foods, posture and dental screenings, Frisbees and lines of nurses administering the year's coveted flu shot. One undergraduate summed it up simply: "There's nothing here but good medicine in good supply."
If only that were true.
Something else was in good supply this week that might not be the best medicine for today's college students: condoms. Yes, buckets of them. Like candy, placed side-by-side with piles of Hershey's chocolate, latex condoms were there for the taking. It was a modern Don Juan's supply store. Students who missed out on this week's handouts of LifeStyles can find free stockpiles in the McCosh Health Center year-round. After business hours? No problem. Visit the nearest RCA in your dorm or director of student life for a late-night run. In some dormitory corridors, you can even find "rubbers on the wall" for convenience.
McCosh's condom campaign seems justifiable in today's "hookup culture" at Princeton. "Hooking up" is parlance for a motley of sexual behaviors that occur spontaneously and without promise of an ensuing relationship. These acts include passionate kissing, heavy petting of genitals, giving and receiving of oral sex, and intercourse. Anyone who doubts that casual sex here is as much a tradition as singing "Old Nassau" should read the senior thesis of psychology major Marcelline Baumann '07 available at the University Archives. In a survey of 1,210 heterosexual undergraduates at Princeton last year, Baumann observed that 64 percent of male and 66.2 percent of female respondents reported that they hooked up at least once while at college, with some reporting as many as 65 encounters in one year. What's more, the data show that students have more and more anonymous sex during their freshman year through graduation.
One does not need a degree in public health to see the infectious threat posed by Princeton's hookup culture. The dorms and Prospect Avenue can be thoroughfares for sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. So why aren't condoms good enough? While condoms protect both sexes from the transmission of most STIs (there are some frightening exceptions), they cannot protect women from the psychological fallout of casual sex. Dr. Miriam Grossman, a college psychiatrist at UCLA, is author of "Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student." Dr. Grossman reports that intimate contact stimulates a female to "bond" with her mate through a well-known hormone called oxytocin. Neuroscientists have proven that oxytocin is related to feelings of trust and attachment. Sadly, hookups rarely result in meaningful relationships. The tragedy, then, is that young people, especially females, can suffer psychological anguish from casual sex, while less vulnerable males can move on to their next targets.
That suffering is well documented by Grossman and can undoubtedly be found at Princeton too. Falling GPAs, numerous visits to the counselors, bottle after bottle of antidepressants, alcohol abuse, leaves of absence, self-injurious behavior and suicidal ideation can be some of the many consequences of "safer" sex.
Unfortunately, McCosh's latex-everywhere strategy just won't cut it. How is a collegiate casanova to feel if his own school can stuff his pockets with condoms? It is no wonder, then, that University Health Services (UHS) over the years has had to limit a student's daily allowance to 10 condoms per visit! What Princeton's condom campaign amounts to is a tacit sponsorship of hookup sex that is fundamentally unsafe for females and ethically unconscionable for the doctors and health professionals who promote it.
I wish to take a preemptive strike against criticism of what I am not saying in this column. Firstly, this is not a sermon about the merits of abstinence and chastity; their benefits are plain to see by common sense. Secondly, this is not a call to forsake the condom and other contraceptives as means to properly understood "safe" sex. When couples are involved in deep, supportive and meaningful relationships that are meant to last beyond the orgasm, then the condom makes sense as a health device. It is bad health policy, however, for UHS to wantonly distribute condoms as the best means to "safer" sex. UHS must never forget that it is freely passing out a medical device that gives a false sense of security to sexually active persons.
I end with a respectful invitation. I invite John Kolligian, director of counseling and psychological services, and Janet Finnie '84, director of UHS, to reevaluate the University's sexual health policy and its informational campaigns by creating an investigative committee consisting of Princeton students and medical professionals from on and off campus. With a serious and concentrated effort, the campus can raise even greater awareness about the psychosomatic risks of casual sex.
Now, that is good medicine. Francisco Nava is politics major from Bedford, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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