My educational experience with sex was a semester-long health class in high school (the other semester of “health” class was called Project Adventure … and we did team-building exercises). It was pretty decent, as far as I knew at the time. Frankly, though, I think my health teacher talked less about sex than my English teacher — disappointed by our class discussion of “The Rape of the Lock,” she re-assigned it and told my class to re-read it with the dirtiest mind possible. Perhaps they should have teamed up and taught sex-ed together.
But looking back on it, there are two very different sex topics that I wish were discussed as much as the vasectomy that my health teacher got or the “three amigos” (his asinine nickname for the glands that contribute to making semen):
1) Urinary Tract Infections
I’ve talked to a scarily large number of people who are not aware of UTIs. I try to make a point to drop in some UTI prevention tips when talking to anyone about sex.
I had to learn the hard way about these nasty little (but sometimes big) infections. Sex can cause these in both men and women, although women are more prone to them thanks to the wonderful placement of the urethra oh-so-close to the vagina. It wasn’t until after I had one that I learned all the tricks to prevent them. (I was skiing when I first felt the characteristic incessant need to pee, and there aren’t so many bathrooms on the slope. Just a suggestion: don’t go skiing with a UTI).
Ladies and gents: PEE BEFORE AND AFTER SEX. Just do it. Stop lying sprawled on the bed after sex and go pee. Sometimes sex is so good that it tuckers you out (yawn) and you just want to (big yawn) fall asleep afterwards, but pee first. You gotta flush out that bacteria that worked its way up your urethra. I know it might be hard to orchestrate the peeing beforehand bit, in which case DEFINITELY pee after, but do both and your urethra and bladder will hopefully be happy campers. But if they’re not, don’t spend too much time in the bathroom before you get it checked out. Go to Gannett and pee in a cup - kidney infections are scarier than telling a nurse what’s wrong. Trust me, you will never be more happy about normal peeing after you’ve had a UTI.
In my sex-ed class, the perfunctory consent discussion was presented in a very clear-cut way. “We’ve been hooking up for the past twenty minutes, do you want to have sex?” “Why, thank you so much for asking! Yes I do want to have sex. Do you have a condom?” “Yes I have one right here!”
Issues with consent can be really murky. It is hard to be on the same page sexually with people you meet in college and harder still to communicate well about sex. For example: if you’re meeting someone for the first time and sleeping with them that night, how do you know they’re not blackout drunk? (We all know a few people who seem weirdly normal while blackout). The sad part about sex and the college scene is that everyone is trying to be suave and charming and flirtatious, and downright asking the person if he or she wants to have sex is, well, kind of awkward. And we hate awkward more than 13-year-olds hate being seen with their parents.
The “should I get a condom/do you have a condom” question sort of gets at consent, in a roundabout way. This at least causes a pause in the hooking up which hopefully both parties can use to reflect on whether or not they want to have sex. Yet the truth of the matter is this question is not always asked, and depending on the blood alcohol level of the person asking and/or answering, is possibly not understood or responded to in a clear way.
I think my high-school self, and especially college self, would have benefited from a prolonged discussion about consent, and I certainly wouldn’t have been as freaked out about my first UTI if my sexual education was more well-rounded. Issues pertaining to sex and sexuality impact everyone: we are all sexual beings, whether we are trying to be Casanova or are celibate. I would love to see a mandatory (yes, mandatory) multidisciplinary sexual education class in college. I see a potential in such a class to involve many different disciplines of study from biology to psychology, anthropology, film, art, philosophy and so on. This would open up the sexual dialogue on campus by giving everyone the same level of background knowledge about sex, regardless of whether they never had sex-ed in high school, went through one of the best programs or heard only about abstinence. I have always appreciated Cornell’s commitment to physical health and education, with required P.E. classes and the swim test.
The swim test requirement can save lives, and open Cornellians’ eyes to the joy of swimming. Learning about sex can also save lives. How many people have graduated from Cornell without knowing the possible physical and mental repercussions of sex?
I’m guessing more Cornell graduates have had sex today than gone swimming. Well-rounded, multidisciplinary knowledge about sex (not just the biology behind it) would benefit Cornell graduates throughout their lives.
Lauren C. is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Below the Bellybutton appears alternate Thursdays this semester.