College: that happy time in life dedicated to booze-assisted philosophical discussions, caffeine-fueled study sessions, and condom-stocked dorm room adventures. For many of us college students, it’s the first time we’ve been away from home and the people we knew growing up. This presents us, as adults, with an ideal chance to explore our sexuality. That exploration may take the form of more sex, in more places, with more people than we’ve had before. It may also come as the quiet realization that our politics, gender identity, sexual mores, not to mention sexual orientation, no longer match the expectations of our friends, parents, or perhaps even ourselves. A college education can broaden our perspective and give us space to figure out what we believe and who we want to be. At this point we have most of the tools needed to do this: exposure to different beliefs (from classes as well as other students), a mostly matured prefrontal cortex, and an environment of people who haven’t known us all our lives. OSU and the Corvallis community offer even more resources related to sexual health.
Dr. Kathy Greaves teaches courses on human sexuality at OSU and writes a weekly column for The Daily Barometer. She critiques the double standard that labels women “sluts” for the same sexual behavior that men tend to congratulate one another about. “I think that whatever it is that a woman wants to do, she ought to be able to do that as long as it’s consensual,” she said.
Greaves says the most common question she gets revolves around why women’s orgasms are so difficult to achieve. “I think that’s just an understanding of the physiology of a women’s body and a man’s body, and that there are different points of pleasure and that intercourse isn’t going to do it. But we think that’s what sex is,” she said, adding that society tends to shame women for masturbating. I’d further argue that if you don’t know how to get yourself off, a partner probably won’t know either.
Students hear a lot about consent, staying safe, and not pressuring others. There’s a grey area about sex when alcohol is involved: is it okay if both people are drunk? Or is it always a bad idea? I’m not going to step into that particular debate, except to say that if you have any question about whether your partner is giving enthusiastic consent, sex should not be happening. Meanwhile, Greaves advised, “Until you are in a committed relationship, don’t have sex when you’re drunk.”
Birth Control, Free Condoms & More
Student Health Services offers free counseling on topics related to sexual health, and provides testing for sexually transmitted infections. Lab fees range from $24 to $112 for the 2014-’15 school year. Oregon Contraceptive Care (CCare) is located in the Plageman Building in Room 117 (541-737-9140). CCare is available to OSU students who are U.S. citizens making less than $2,432 per month (not counting parents’ income). It provides students with a multitude of free birth control options including oral contraceptives (the Pill), ring, patch, emergency contraception, barrier methods, and more. Helpful advice on choosing a birth control method is also available. CCare’s confidentiality policy ensures that students can keep themselves and their partners safe without worrying about parents finding out.
Free condoms are available all over campus. Dixon Rec, the Pride Center, the Valley Library (near Java II), as well as Arnold, McNary, and West dining halls are just a few of the many locations (more at http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/condom-hot-spot).
MARS: Male Advocates for Responsible Sexuality
While the sexual double standard is often discussed in terms of how it affects women, men face their own set of challenges. “Women might be stuck in this role of ‘Don’t have a lot of sex or we’ll call you a slut.’ But men get stuck in that role of ‘If you’re not a player, then you’re a loser and a wimp,’” said Greaves. OSU’s MARS program offers men the chance to speak with outreach workers who’ve been trained in topics related to healthy sexuality. The MARS website says, “Males have unique reproductive and sexual health needs that historically have not been addressed. Addressing men’s reproductive and sexual health creates a win-win situation for men, their partners, and their families.”
Greaves is enthusiastic. “MARS is wonderful because it gives [male students] that opportunity to have that open and honest conversation without being judged.”
One of the hardest decisions some of us make is if, when, and what to tell our families about our sexual and romantic lives. Some people prefer to keep this completely private, but this is more difficult for people who plan to be in a long-term relationship with someone whose gender isn’t what their parents expect, or for folks who want to move in with their partner. While sexual orientation may be the hardest thing to tell family about, telling socially conservative parents that you’ve had sex or want to get an apartment with a partner can also be terrifying. “It’s hard to go against your parents, especially if you really love and respect them,” says Greaves. The Pride Center at 1553 SW A Avenue (off of 15th Street) offers LGBT students a welcoming environment with resources on coming out and other issues affecting students.
One of the other keys to navigating sexuality is knowing the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. For me, this came as an unnerving moment last year when I realized, during a presentation from the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV), that one of my previous relationships matched some of the descriptors of abusive relationships. Control, excessive jealousy, and isolation from family and friends are the hallmarks of abuse.
CARDV’s website says this may include a partner controlling who you talk to or what you do, making fun of you, or repeatedly calling to check up on what you’re doing. You, meanwhile, feel like you have to walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting your partner, believe that it’s always your fault, or feel that you just need to try harder to make the relationship work.
It’s easy to rationalize controlling behavior: “She just loves me so much that she always wants to be with me,” or “He doesn’t like me spending time with other guys because he wants to protect me.” Both men and women can be victims of abusive behavior, although women are more often the victims of physical abuse.
Leaving an unhealthy relationship is not easy. CARDV provides a 24-hour hotline at 541-754-0110 where you can get advice, entrance to CARDV’s emergency shelter, and other help. Student Health Services offers a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (541-737-9355) for any students who’ve been the victim of assault, without having to report it or go to the hospital.
We have the right to safety in our sexual relationships. We also have the responsibility to act in ways that respect other people and keep them safe. But don’t lose sight of the fact that sex is a natural, enjoyable human behavior that doesn’t have to be surrounded by fear, mystery, or moral panic.