When Guli Fager started her job as a sexual health educator for university students in Texas, she was shocked to learn how little they knew. While most students had basic knowledge about contraception, they had minimal understanding of reproductive processes and sexual health issues. Her concern grew when she realized that not only were the students generally uninformed, they were often misinformed. She decided to focus on the question, “What is healthy sexual health development?” and how could she convey this question and the answers to the students through programs at the university health center.
Sexual health is more than “not getting pregnant”
Guli found that, especially with incoming freshmen, the students’ understanding of sexual health was focused primarily on preventing pregnancy. They had little concern for sexually transmitted infections [STI’s] and had received no guidance regarding how to have healthy relationships. In fact, she discovered that scare tactics had often been used on students when they were teens, with messages such as, “There is no safe time during the menstrual cycle. ”
As Guli says, “this is untrue.”
Healthy Sexual Development Requires Basic Understanding of Biology
Having been raised by a mother who was a sympto-thermal method teacher, Guli has long been familiar with the menstrual cycle and its phases of fertile and non-fertile days. She believes that regardless of the choices people make about being sexually active or not, this essential biological information should be taught to young people as a matter of course. She also firmly believes that understanding a woman’s cycle should be an underlying concept when teaching about contraception.
Using CycleBeads to Educate
In a class called Methods of Contraception, Guli uses CycleBeads as a visual tool to convey the information in an easy, understandable way. “When I came to this position, I found the way the menstrual cycle was being taught by the peer educators didn’t make sense to me and it was confusing to the students, and I realized I needed a new way to teach it.” She now has her peer educators study the Standard Days Method, the method behind CycleBeads, so that they can also easily counsel on the menstrual cycle when women come to the center.
Sexual Health Development Can’t Ignore Sexually Transmitted Infections
Another vital issue Guli makes sure to address is that of STI’s. She was concerned that sexually active students were putting so much emphasis on preventing pregnancy, that they were ignoring the risk of STI’s. As one male student told her, “We don’t use condoms, because she’s on the pill.” Guli is careful to let students know that, “No matter what the fertility information is, condoms should always be used to avoid STI’s.”
What do students want to know?
Guli found that while most sexual health messages imparted by adults on young people revolve around avoiding sex, avoiding pregnancy, and avoiding STI’s, the students often want to know about entirely different things. As Guli put it,
“There is a difference between what adults want kids to know – which has a lot to do with fear on the adults’ part, and the information that kids want to know and are curious about.”
After having students take surveys, she confirmed for herself that there was definitely a gap between the two. Students had their own questions, concerns and curiosities that had not been addressed. “How do I know whether a girl [or boy] likes me?” “How long does sex last?”
Developing a Sexual Health Curriculum
Guli began to incorporate student questions along with the traditional information about responsibility and being safe into all of her materials. “A person will have sex at some point, and a young person should be guided to make sure it is with a person with whom they have a healthy relationship.”
She hopes that her efforts as a health educator will help increase awareness about sexual health facts as well as nurture supportive attitudes about the value of healthy relationships, including sexual relationships. She believes that honest and accurate information is key to helping young people know the benefits and risks of the relationships they choose and to make decisions that will enrich their lives as they continue onward into adulthood.
Tags: birth control, birth control options, condoms, couple communication, CycleBeads, family planning, Guli Fager, sexual health, sexually transmitted infections, standard days method, sti, symptothermal method, unplanned pregnancy