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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011

What College Students Want to Know

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Almost every year, I take part in a Q&A session at a national conference for college students during which students can anonymously ask any questions they want about sex—kind of like a live version of this column. So last weekend, I found myself in a packed room of more than 50 young adults, trying along with three fellow “sexperts” to answer as many questions as possible in the space of an hour.

So, what do college students want to know about these days? My co-presenters and I reflected after the session on how questions had changed over the years, largely due to the easy accessibility of information online.  Less than a decade ago, most questions during this session were about factual information—what are the symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STIs)? How effective are different forms of contraception? Is it true that you can get an STI through oral sex? (Yes.) Now, questions are a lot more about sex itself—the most frequent topics were orgasm, the G-spot and female ejaculation, and anal sex.

This is partly because comprehensive websites like the American Social Health Association and Planned Parenthood have good information about STIs and contraception. I think it's also due to “sex education fatigue”—the feeling that college students often have that they've heard it all already when it comes to the negative consequences that can come from sex, due to the prevalence of abstinence-only education in many schools.

The Internet has changed what students want to know in another way—through the ubiquity of porn. Some have argued that in our country's rush to abstinence-only, fear-based sex curricula, we have turned over education about other topics that young people are naturally interested in to porn. Thus, the avalanche of questions about the G-spot, squirting and anal (with a couple about threesomes thrown in for good measure).

I see this as both a blessing and a curse. It's great that young people are becoming more aware of different ways that they can explore sexual pleasure. But, as seasoned older adults know, what porn shows is not necessarily real. Mainstream porn is as fake as a Hollywood action movie. If these are the only images that students see, they may develop unrealistic expectations for what sex should be like. This doesn't mean that we should try to get rid of porn; it means that we need to step up our sex education efforts to include information about sexual pleasure.

We also received a lot of questions about sexual communication—how to discuss what you do and don't like with a partner; how to have “the talk” about STI screening. We received one question that we've never had before: “How do I talk to my parents about my sexual activity?”

This question could be in line with common assumptions about members of “the millennial generation,” who are often described as being much more attached to and respectful of their parents than previous generations. Hey, cross-generational communication about sex can be a good thing.

I'll answer this question about parents in a future column. And maybe the one about threesomes.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.


Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.