Although interest for the Critical Thinking In Sexuality course appears to have waned over the past semester, research we recently conducted for Sexual Debates in the U.S. (SWGS 385) underscores the need for the course. As a population, Rice students receive woefully inadequate sex education in secondary school, especially when compared to the SB#4 recommendations for the proposed Rice course.
A weighted analysis of the number of students from each state at Rice and the sex ed laws from those states reveals that less than one in five students come from a state that requires sex education, and less than one in five come from a state where sex ed must be medically accurate, as measured by the state itself.
Knowing that geographic disparities existed within state laws, we conducted a survey of Rice students who attended public school in the United States to confirm geographic patterns. 95 percent of eligible survey respondents received some information on abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases, but only 84 percent of students received information on condoms, which, though a sizable number, raises the question of how exactly students were taught to prevent STDs.
The lack of prevention education is troubling given the disproportionate rate of STDs among youth. People aged 15-24 account for nearly half of the 20 million new STDs diagnosed each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The results on consent particularly stress the pressing need for the CTIS class. Only 40 percent of respondents reported receiving information on consent. While this figure does not mean only 40 percent of Rice students know what consent is — many students, of course, receive some form of sex ed outside the classroom — it indicates a student body who has largely had to figure consent out on its own, and, based on the results of the Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experiences, this “self-education” has not been particularly effective.
Results are slightly better, but nowhere near good enough, for healthy relationships — something that only 60 percent of respondents received information about. Though a simple majority may seem like a success especially in light of the results on consent, these results mean it is highly likely, and even probable, that at least one person in a relationship has not received education on healthy relationships.
The numbers are even worse just looking at Texas, home to about half the Rice student body. Compared to the data we collected on the rest of the country, Texas sex ed falls short in every single category in our survey.
92 percent of students receive abstinence education, while only around 73 percent received information on condoms and a paltry 48 percent on other forms of contraceptives.
In regards to STDs, about 89 percent reported receiving information on the topic, but only 64 percent were taught about HIV/AIDS. This disparity, as well as the comparatively low proportion of students receiving information on condoms, is disturbing, considering that Texas ranked third among the 50 states in new HIV diagnoses in 2013, according to the CDC.
Texas fails the most on the subjects of healthy relationships, consent, sexual orientation and gender identity. Based on student responses from Texas, half received information on healthy relationships while just over a third were taught about consent. Outside Texas, 30 percent of people received information about sexual orientation, while only 8 percent did in Texas. The same percent reported receiving information about gender identity. Considering about half of Rice students come from Texas, these results show a serious lack of sexual education within the Rice community.
The CTIS course aims to address healthy relationships, safer sex practices, consent, and different perspectives on sexuality, all areas where Rice students receive inadequate education. When considering the fact that about a third of students never received information on healthy relationships or contraception, and a majority of students never received information on consent, sexual orientation, and, in Texas, contraception, the need for a course to address these gaps becomes all the more clear.
Research, like the 2007 review of 80 studies on sex-ed published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Adolescent Health, shows time and again that effective sex ed promotes healthy sexual behavior, including increasing condom and contraceptive use, and can reduce rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. Research also suggests that consent education would similarly lead to positive outcomes and reduce sexual violence.
As a matter of our community’s health, Rice needs and deserves the Critical Thinking In Sexuality course. This course must address medically accurate methods of STD and pregnancy prevention beyond abstinence, include safer-sex education specific to LGBTQ+ populations and address cultural attitudes as they relate to sexual violence. Student progress should also be tracked using standardized pre- and post- tests to determine the program’s effectiveness across sections, and instructors must understand the disparities that exist in education and permit for flexibility.
While doubt has been cast on the need for this class in the past, our findings strongly support the need for the proposed class, and we urge Rice community members to renew their support for the class as well.
Elana Margosis, Duncan College ‘19
Alex Bergin-Newman, Wiess College ‘18
Mitchell Klokman, McMurtry College ‘17