Sandra Fluke Sparks Debate on Sexual Health of University Students

Opinion

 
on March 05 2012 4:01 PM
Sandra Fluke Sparks Debate on Sexual Health of University Students
The Love And Fidelity Network (LFN), a college outreach program, has a catchy advertising campaign highlighting this data and illuminating this view of sexual health. Handout

Thanks to Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, the sex life of students, and women, has become the new hot topic of conversation. Called upon to testify for the defense of Democratic leaders and their HHS contraception mandate, Fluke, in essence, argued the case that the health of women takes precedence over religious liberty.

It seems like an odd pairing: a health mandate focusing on contraceptives for women versus the notions of religious freedom, but these are the two debates brought to the fore in this argument.

To be fair, the bulk of Fluke's testimony made claims for the necessity of contraception for legitimate health concerns, such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts. And also, to be fair, the necessity of contraception being the best treatment for those health issues is debatable.

The coverage of contraception in Catholic institutions for legitimate treatments is a separate conversation, as the church itself has specifications for times when contraception may be necessary treatment and perhaps permissible. 

Whether Fluke intended to or not, her testimony has sparked a debate about the sexual health of women, and it's a conversation that's worthy of a closer look.

Most notably, conservative talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh came under fire --and consequently forced to apologize -- for calling Fluke a slut and asking her to upload sex videos. His comments were deplorable and unhelpful, to say the least.

Conversely, other commentators raised concerns about Fluke's testimony that speak to a larger body of voices, which are calling for a higher level of respect for women and their sexual health.

Claiming that contraception coverage was financially crippling to students, like herself, Fluke ended her testimony by saying: We refuse to pick between a quality education and our health and we resent that, in the 21st Century, anyone thinks it's acceptable to ask us to make that choice simply because we are women.

Fluke claimed the costs of contraception were steep, saying that roughly 40 percent of Georgetown women struggle with $3,000 contraception bills over the course of a three-year law school term. But many quickly debunked her claim, notably the Weekly Standard, who found that Target in DC sells generic birth control pills for $9/month to those who do not have insurance.

Other objections were made, too.

Tina Korbe at HotAir.com had this to say: Ms. Fluke, resent that you think women are incapable of controlling themselves, of sacrificing temporary pleasure for the sake of long-term success. You make us sound like animals, slaves to our instincts and able to be used, but we're better than that. We're persons, equal to men in dignity and love.

Whether Fluke was referring to health in terms of students' sex lives is, again, debatable, but since the conversation is open we might as well explore it.

For many women (and men) sexual health is not the freedom to have sex whenever. Rather, sexual health is defined as ordering sex into life in a way that is best for the whole person-both mentally and physically. And it is in such a sex life that true freedom is found.

Where can such a freedom-giving sex be found? In marriage, these women and men claim. And they have scientific data to back up their claim.

The Love And Fidelity Network (LFN), a college outreach program, has a catchy advertising campaign highlighting this data and illuminating this view of sexual health.

My sexual choices now are making a difference, their ads read, with each one detailing the appeal of research-supported reasons to delay sex until marriage.

Take the pictured one as an example. I want to experience better mental health than my peers, the poster reads. In the finer print it explains: Among a number of desirable outcomes, married adults have been shown to report less depression, less anxiety, and lower levels of psychological distress. Studies have also shown that martial stability is negatively associated with one's amount of sexual experience in college and the time prior to marriage.

And another ad: I want to experience 20 percent higher relationship satisfaction and 15 percent higher sexual quality in my future marriage than my peers. And in the fine print, The delay of a couples sexual involvement until marriage has been shown to have significantly positive associations with a number of relationship outcomes, including relationship satisfaction and stability, sexual quality, and communication.

These ads are giving voice to a growing movement, because for a growing number of college students, the mentality of hooking up, or even having sex prematurely in relationships, isn't cutting it.

The National Health Statistics recently reported in their 2006-2008 report, virginity among individual's ages 20 to 24 rose from 8 percent for both men and women in 2002 to 12 percent of women and 13 percent of men. Additionally, sociologist Paula England of Stanford has found in her research that nearly a quarter of college seniors are virgins.

Many students are finding that despite pressure from the media and their peers, their romantic lives are missing something. We feel constant pressure to do things that make us feel unsettled, a class of students told Professor Donna Freitas, Professor of Theology at Boston University, as they schemed to ditch the hook-up approach to relationships for a more holistic dating life.

Sex is powerful, and it's meant to be an incredibly intimate and empowering act. For many college students and unmarried adults, delaying sexual activity is not just saying no to sex right now, but rather  saying yes to a healthier, better sex life later.

For these individuals, health and education are synonymous, but their sexual health in college doesn't require the cost of a monthly pill. Kudos to the Love and Fidelity Network and its students on campuses nationwide for giving voice to this view of healthy sexuality.  

Meg McDonnell is a Phillips Foundation Robert Novak Journalism Fellow working on a project about young Americans and marriage trends. 

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