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Let’s talk about sex

Amanda Peña | Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The beer pong tournament lasted for hours. 20 cups, 18 people, two tables, only one winning team. Standing in a puddle of cheap Natty Light, you peered into your opponent’s soul as you sunk the game-winning shot into the final cup. You and your teammate rejoiced in drunken camaraderie until coming back from that epic Friday night Halloween party.
A week later, your teammate got a cold sore from the Herpes Simplex 1 virus (HSV-1) without ever realizing some random person passed it to him (and potentially others) from the cups in the beer pong tournament. And let’s say someone else in the tournament was also infected but did not show any symptoms. Later that week, she performed oral sex on her boyfriend and months down the road he later found he has genital herpes.
These people may be sharing drinks, Chapstick or an unclear memory captured on ND Makeouts. Nevertheless, whether you engage in sexual intercourse or not while at Notre Dame, your sexual health and the health of your peers play a vital role in your future.
HSV-1 is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), often showing no-to-mild symptoms or being passed without having intercourse. The CDC shows chlamydia as the most commonly reported bacterial STI, with roughly 75 percent of infected women and 50 percemt of infected men showing no symptoms. There are also many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) making its way through our student body that you may never become aware of.
Now, if you’re not sexually active or think these types of statistics don’t apply to our student body, I implore you to seriously reflect on the hookup culture imposed by tense gender relations and interaction among our peers. Chances are, you probably have several friends who are sexually active – or at least you know of a few people who are. I am not in any way implying every person hooking up or in relationships is an immediate threat to the sexual health of our student body, but without careful consideration of the consequences and a general lack of information about individual health, they have the potential to be. And in the relationships you’ll develop after college, it will become even more important to own your sexual health.
The prominent Catholic identity engrained in our environment is a double-edged sword that shapes a culture of compassion and concern for the greater good while hindering our ability to have important conversations surrounding sexual health or sex in general.
A friend of mine recently visited St. Liam’s for precautionary STD/STI testing. To his disappointment, he was turned away because he did not exhibit any symptoms that would necessitate testing. Another friend shared how she takes birth control for menstruation regulation in secret because she fears others will assume she is sexually active.
Students should not be afraid, quieted or turned away when it comes to taking control of their health. Although the Catholic mission strictly opposes the use of contraceptives and premarital sex, it can successfully cultivate healthier relationships that lead individuals toward making morally conscious and informed decisions that affect them and all of their relationships – romantic or not – with others.
Notre Dame students are just as susceptible as any person to contracting diseases that increase their chances of developing HIV/AIDs or cervical cancer, or passing them on through pregnancy. Victims of sexual assault and rape are also incredibly vulnerable, and the emotional trauma for all infected persons can be particularly damaging.
My parents openly and honestly educated me about my sexual health from a very young age; however, many parents are not as blunt or comfortable having these conversations with their children. The sex talk needs to extend beyond knowing where babies come from by including the importance of regular check-ups with a physician (i.e. pap tests), reintroducing awareness of STI/STDs and making resources and conversations more accessible and normalized.
Due to Notre Dame’s Catholic mission, general sexual health information is widely underutilized and unknown. I am currently developing a sexual health program proposal that could reconcile the need for sexual health information with Our Lady’s ideals. I anticipate implementing a pilot program by the 2014-15 academic year that can increase competency of sexual health-related issues, create familiarization of existing resources for STI/STD testing, unplanned pregnancies, abortion and assault survivor support and create avenues of support where there are none available.
It is my great hope this article will foster discussion about the types of resources students would like to see and identify ways in which we can improve the visibility of existing ones. Your questions, suggestions and comments can have a tremendous impact on the direction of this program. So let’s talk about sex and learn how to handle a highly taboo topic for the betterment of our ND family.

Amanda Peña is a junior and a
sustainable development studies
major with a poverty studies minor. She can be contacted at
[email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.