By Juliana DeMuro – 1851 Contributor
Miriam Clark is a nurse practitioner at Lasell University. I had the opportunity to discuss sex education with her, via zoom. Working on a college campus, Clark is aware that students are in fact having sex, regardless of the social distance policy. Aside from roommates, students do have people in their “maskless bubble” that they spend their time with. Students are in relationships or are exploring. Now we all know social distancing is important in flattening the curve, however people are naturally sexual beings.
Q: How can students on campus practice safe sex, in the midst of a global pandemic?
A: I think it’s hard, I mean one of the good things at Lasell is that we are doing covid testing every three to four days. And then of course if someone is having symptoms, like coughing, or sneezing, or a cold, you should try to avoid that person. You can both quarantine for 14 days, test negative, not go out and see anybody else (which is unrealistic). The CDC says if you’re going to have sex you could wear a mask and avoid kissing, which is very hard to do! So we understand people have to meet and that sexuality is important and it’s important on a college campus, but covid is a part of your life. I mean you can only do your best, and hopefully if you meet someone and they have symptoms don’t have sex with them. Again, you can both test, wait two weeks and make sure neither of you have covid, or wear a mask and don’t kiss. Do the best. Our campus so far has been pretty safe. We have had minimal covid complications and no positives. Hopefully we will get to the other side of this.
Q: Our society uses sex either as a way to market, or as a way to shame. It can be an awkward conversation, but rather than pushing past that we choose to keep knowledge of sex in the dark. I want you to imagine a student who has never had access to sex education, and who doesn’t have a trusting adult in their life to have these conversations. What are some resources you would recommend to this student?
A: If someone comes into my office and they’ve never had sex and their curious about sex, because sex is normal, having sexual relationships are normal, so we always discuss safe sex. In terms of, not to get STI, what is safe sex, and healthy safe relationships which are important. Sexual assault is a big thing on college campuses so we discuss that. There are reproductive health resources, family planning resources, and planned parenthood is a good resource in terms of not getting pregnant or experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. The CDC has a lot of good resources, women’s health, Fenway health is a very good resource. There’s also different kinds of partners, so we can talk to the individual and see where they’re at. It’s a matter of finding who the individual is and finding the right resource for them. The most important types are health education, sexual health education. Finding the right source.
Q: When do you think students should be learning about sex? And based on the age range you answer, how do you think this may affect a students mentality on sex?
A: Sex education has to be focused on the children’s age and their ability to comprehend. I think sex education starts at elementary school, maybe fourth or fifth graders some females are getting their periods and they need to understand their bodies. I believe it should start in elementary and then continue onto middle school talking about STDs, STIs, and unwanted pregnancy. Then in high school they should be talking about different forms of how to protect yourself in terms of STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Which could be condoms, the pill, there’s a lot of different ways that females could do that. It has to be age appropriate, but start in elementary, continue in middle school, and high school and college and continue for the rest of your life. It’s not just sex and the physical body, but it’s also the emotional relationships, healthy relationships, sexual identity, and just to have that open communication with students from the beginning. A lot of states don’t have public sex education and that’s unfortunate, so i think it needs to start early.
Q: When it comes to safe sex and contraceptive methods, it seems most of the pressure falls onto women. Obviously not all sex is heterosexual, but could you reiterate for me, why is it important that both parties participate/practice in safe sex?
A: Right, because both parties are the ones that are having sex. Whether it’s two men, two women, or whether it’s a male and a female. Females are the ones that can get pregnant so of course we always emphasize contraception in terms of what a woman can do, but it’s also the males responsibility. It’s both of you. Both people- both individuals that are having sex should be mature and if they are not at that point in their life then they should not be having sex. Not to rush into sex, understand what a healthy relationship is, and to talk about it, having a dialogue with your partner. I think it’s important for both parties to discuss contraception. It’s not just the women, but both, because you both are having sex.
Q: Aside from sexual partners, there are students out there who want to explore their own bodies, but can’t deny the stigma behind this. So my question, is masturbation healthy? Is it a form of sexual expression?
A: It is! And It is healthy, and very natural, and people have normal feelings of sexuality. The best thing to do as you’re growing up and you’re an adolescent is to explore your own body. To know what it is that’s pleasurable and what isn’t. Masturbation is very normal and is very healthy. It’s also done in a healthy way like privacy. Self exploration and knowing what it is that you like and what you don’t like and masturbation and all that is normal. Especially now, you should be able to discuss your sexuality and what you like and don’t like in an open way. It’s not wrong, it’s not bad, it’s not shameful. People should just be able to discuss sex because it’s just very healthy. It’s part of who we are, the same way with eating and breathing. It’s part of what our needs are.