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Sexual behavior rarely discussed

March 5, 2003

By Beth Bond

Issues of sexuality, specifically contraception use and the separate but related issue of abortion, often are skirted or avoided altogether on campus, said some in the reproductive health field. However, they said, these subjects are of relevance to everyone, whether they go unspoken or not.

'We've been seeing cars going to Planned Parenthood for abortions with Baylor stickers on them,' said Dr. John Pisciotta, associate professor of economics. He sponsors the campus anti-abortion group Bears For Life. 'I am under no illusion that this is not something college students deal with,' Pisciotta said.

Not all those Baylor cars are necessarily there for abortions, said Pam Smallwood, director of Planned Parenthood of Central Texas. The clinic's staff sees 8,000 women a year, the majority of whom go there to fill prescriptions for birth control.

'A very small percentage of them come for abortions, and a very small percentage are actually pregnant,' she said.

Smallwood has no documented numbers to confirm that Baylor students go to the clinic because the women are not asked to share much personal information for confidentiality purposes.

'I can tell you anecdotally that I've heard some of our counselors indicate that Baylor students are coming more often than not for pregnancy testing,' she said. Frequently, when tests come back negative, counselors offer the choice of using a method of birth control, but the women refuse it.

'They say, 'I can't use birth control because then I would be planning to have sex, and that's wrong,'' Smallwood said. 'So they're saying that it's OK if they just get swept away. I wouldn't call that good decision-making.

'Where does that kind of thinking come from?' she asked. 'Someone who feels bad that they're having sex.'

Dr. Carole Hanks, a Baylor associate professor of pre-nursing, agrees with Smallwood that an understood convention to stay tight-lipped about sexuality prevents many from making responsible choices.

'There is an idea that if you teach about sexuality, you are encouraging [students] to be sexual,' Hanks said. 'The reality is that providing education and contraception makes no difference to people who would choose to have sex anyway.'

She supports a program at her church, Lake Shore Baptist, that provides candid sex education to teenagers because 'it asks young adults to think about the implications of their decisions.'

George W. Truett Seminary professor Dr. A.J. Conyers, also a Bears for Life sponsor, said he believes students could benefit from a similar university effort to openly discuss sexual matters.

'It's an important aspect of life, especially when people are at the age to think about marriage,' Conyers said. 'Perhaps there could be more in the way of something for people who want more guidence for dating, dating behavior, abstinence-based education and marriage.'

A major exception to Baylor's reticence regarding these subjects was an impromptu rally in 2001, incited by graphic displays brought to Fountain Mall by anti-abortion group Justice For All. Also, the sociology department offers a course on marriage and the family course and the health education department offers a class on human sexuality.

'Statistically, there is probably someone in my class who has had an abortion or had a baby and given it up,' said human sexuality professor Loeen Irons, a full-time lecturer of health, human performance and recreation. 'The numbers make it very likely, and that makes it very personal.'

Pam Stone, educational director of Planned Parenthood, said Baylor's willingness to confront sexual issues is slight when compared to that of other areas. She gave European attitudes toward sex as an example.

'The difference between American and European ideas on sexuality is that it is treated as a public health issue, not a political and moral football,' she said.