SGA Takes Control of the Sexual Health Conversation

As important as sexual education is among high school and college students, it is not required in many curriculums in the United States. Education is one of the few areas that state governments have jurisdiction over. According to Planned Parenthood, Only 24 states and Washington D.C. require sex education to be taught in schools. Most decisions about SexEd are generally left up to individual school districts. To better educate students in College Park, the UMD Student Government Association hosted a town hall about birth control on Nov. 18. 

Photo courtesy of @umd.sga on Instagram

The town hall featured representatives from Planned Parenthood, Pregnancy Aid Center, and the University Health Center. The panelists talked about different birth control and STD testing resources, financial aid options for students without insurance, students’ privacy rights, and the importance of sexual health communication between partners. This was new information to many students in the room, who may not have had any prior sexual education or have been otherwise misinformed by friends or online sources.   

“Education is power,” said junior Parisa Rahbar, a sexual health educator at the University Health Center. “How do you expect students to take responsibility for their sexual or reproductive health if they aren’t informed? We have that chance to inform them. It’s vital because everyone deserves the same right to take care of their sexual health and make responsible, safe choices.”

The panelists also discussed financial options and privacy rights for students when going to a health center for birth control. Planned Parenthood’s prices differ from location to location because of the different grants they receive. The Maryland Planned Parenthood center determines prices on a sliding scale that’s based on income, so they can provide cheaper options even if you’re not on insurance. Planned Parenthood also has a teen pricing option for people under the age of 20. That is really low-cost birth control, with $25 being the maximum price.

Photo courtesy of @plannedparenthood on Instagram

Some people may hesitate to go to clinics and get the treatment they need because they’re worried about their parents finding out. But, Mary Jelacic, a panelist representing the Pregnancy Aid Center, informed students that parents’ consent is never needed when going to a clinic. Any clinic should keep patient information confidential.

“Let them [students] know that they don’t need parental consent. That [fear] is part of why they won’t get the information or go to the health center. They listen to their friends and get misinformation, and that’s dangerous,” stated Jelacic.

The purpose of the town hall was not only to inform students of the sexual health resources available to them, but also to demonstrate the role that both men and women should be playing in an intimate relationship. The town hall was attended by as many girls as guys, which emphasized the importance of mutual responsibility between sexual partners.

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

“Tonight, there was as many young men as there were young women. So, the message is clear. It’s a dual responsibility,” said Jelacic. “It’s not the girl’s responsibility or the man’s responsibility. It’s both of them together.”

Most students are hesitant to start a conversation with a partner because of the awkwardness or negative stigma that comes with birth control or STDs. However, the risks that come with ignoring a person’s sexual health can lead to incurable diseases or an unplanned pregnancy. The goal of events like SGA’s town hall is to destigmatize these topics, allowing for greater transparency in discussions of sexual health.

“We definitely don’t talk about it as much as we should, which is why town halls like this are really important,” stated Ayesha Amsa, an attending junior public policy major. “Even at a college level, where people are literally always having sex, people just don’t know enough about birth control, STIs, and STDs. It’s definitely not something that’s normalized.”

This town hall was the third annual event that SGA has held to raise awareness about sexual health. Programs like these continue to promote open and private conversations for the benefit of all.

“This can be a very uncomfortable topic for a lot of people to talk about for  various reasons. But it's important because whether you're sexually active or not, it's something that most people will engage in at some point,” said Rahbar. “Arming yourself with that knowledge helps you make informed decisions.”