Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The sexual health survey currently going around campus hopes to take a snapshot of sexual health on campus, but even if that picture isn’t perfect, the Sexual Health Counselors see the survey as a positive force for making people aware of their own sexual health.
According to the Sexual Health Counselors, the survey has been in the works for the past two years. Cory Baker ’07 explained that during the safe sex workshops for freshmen, “people ask us about the statistics on campus.”
Katherine Sydenham ’07 agreed, saying that “no group on campus has statistics about what STIs might be going around the campus and what people might be at risk for, so we want to make the information public to the student body.” With the help of the survey, the Sexual Health Counselors will be able to provide a rough estimate of these statistics.
The survey also asks questions about the sexual activities people have engaged in at Swarthmore and about the kinds of contraception and protection they use. Have you engaged in oral sex on a vagina, penis, or anus? Have you fingered or fisted an anus? What about vaginal or anal intercourse with a dildo? And when it comes to protection, do you use a dental dam for oral sex? What about a diaphragm for birth control? How often do you get tested for sexually transmitted diseases?
According to Baker, the counselors suspect that these sexual activities are common at Swarthmore, and “by releasing the data, we want to normalize these activities… our goal is to make people feel comfortable trying out different sexual experiences.” Statistics about what sort of contraception and protection students use will hopefully fill a similar role, encouraging students to try a form of protection that they may not have considered before.
Lastly, the counselors hope to get a more detailed picture of how students use Worth and the Sexual Health Counselors as a resource for information about sexual health. With the comments from the survey, they hope to have new ideas about how to make their information more accessible to students. According to Annie Fredrickson ’07, “what we’re getting in the responses will make us re-evaluate our function as a group… we’re going to take on a more active role.”
Over five hundred students have already taken the survey, and the Sexual Health Counselors are going to try to get at least half of the campus to take it by its conclusion. Baker said, “we’re hoping that people from all points of the spectrum are taking this… we tried to do different study breaks [for taking the survey] in different locations to attract different crowds.”
The fear of not attracting a representative cross-section of the student body is one problem with the survey, but another is that good statistics will rely on people being completely honest. Since the counselors wanted to protect students’ privacy, no identifying information– Swarthmore ID number, name, or IP address–will be tracked by the survey. There’s no way to know that all of the surveys that have been taken so far weren’t just the same person making things up, but the counselors trust that enough people will be honest that the statistics will still be useful.
Even if the statistics aren’t perfect, the counselors stressed that the survey is already fulfilling a role in reminding students to be active about their sexual health–Sydenham reported that many of her friends who have taken the survey realized while answering the questions that their own behavior could be healthier, and that many of them have already made appointments to get tested for STDs.
The counselors plan to leave the survey up until the end of March or until they feel that they’ve gotten a satisfactory number of responses. Once the survey is closed, they will make the numerical data available, although the written comments will only be seen by Sexual Health Counselors. The counselors plan to write a report analyzing the data and make it available in The Phoenix as well as at Worth.
Fredrickson said that the counselors also hope to use the statistics as an impetus behind a drive to sign people up for STD testing appointments at Worth. The Swarthmore blood drive is always popular, and the counselors hope their testing drive will be successful as well: helping people you don’t know by donating blood is nice, but by getting tested for STDs, you’re taking care of your own health as well as that of your past and future sexual partners.