As I take a stroll through the hallways of any residential college, I am faced with a buffet of condoms hanging from each RCA’s door. The options seem endless — glow-in-the-dark, chocolate strawberry flavored, fluorescent orange. Perhaps this is our adult version of a chocolate emporium, except the treat at the end is safe sex.
Offering free condoms is a part of the robust sexual education program that Princeton offers to its undergraduates. From the moment they arrive on campus, freshmen are treated to a presentation on SHARE — the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising Resource and Education service offered on campus. They are also handed a cartoon booklet on sexual health, and, of course, are given free condoms. But sexual education needs to go beyond what is already in place. It is about more than just throwing fistfuls of free condoms at students.
Undoubtedly, it is important to educate incoming undergraduates about resources for reporting sexual assault. At the same time, the university needs to also focus on other facets of sexual education. For one, information about the sexual health services offered at the University, such as STI testing or contraceptive consultations at McCosh Health Center, should be better publicized during orientation programming. It is essential that we engage students in a dialogue about their sexual health so that they are aware of the resources on campus.
But beyond these structural changes, there needs to be a greater shift in the institutional approach we take when talking about sex, not just at Princeton, but at universities across the country. We need to make our sexual education more pleasure-focused.
To put it into perspective, the sexual education curriculum that we are accustomed to is mainly driven by consequences. Students are taught about a slew of STIs they could contract and the many ways contraceptives to prevent the threat of a pregnancy, but they do not even come close to learning about what it means to have enjoyable and healthy sexual relations — a gap in education that is detrimental to the development of sexual health.
Young people, especially women, are taught about sex in a cut-and-dry scientific way. They are given a labelled diagram of the female reproductive system and taught how to use a tampon, but there is not much else beyond that. Compounded with the taboo society places on talking about sex, there is just a lack of information and dialogue surrounding sexual health.
The World Health Organization states that “fundamental to this concept [of sexual health] are the right to sexual information and the right to pleasure.” While it is important to learn the mechanics and potential repercussions of sexual activity, it is as essential to stress that sexual relations can be and should be pleasurable for all parties. By changing the tenor of sexual education, we will be able to change the way many students approach sex.
One approach at peer institutions like Harvard, Yale, Brown, and the University of Chicago has been to sponsor Sex Week — a student-run event that covers pertinent topics and stimulates a conversation on sexual health through seminars, lectures, and events. For example, this past year at Harvard, a few examples of the seminars include “Exotification, Sex, and Race” and “Sex Toys 101: Feel Those Good Vibrations.” Educating students about important but often overlooked issues, such as the intersections of race and sexuality with sexual health in an entertaining way is helpful in creating a more inclusive environment on campus. These events facilitate a dialogue about sexual health. In the footsteps of other universities, it is time for Princeton to update its approach to sexual education and try to foster a more welcoming, sex-positive environment.
A more comprehensive approach to sexual education, especially one that incorporates pleasure in its curriculum, will create a healthier culture regarding sex. By subverting the indoctrinated and threatening stigma about sex, we will be able to better engage in active dialogue with our partners and give clearer consent. When students understand that sexual activities are meant to be pleasurable for all parties, they will be better able to identify situations which are uncomfortable and not conducive to consent.
Dora Zhao is a first-year student from Newtown, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.