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Sexuality course spikes interest at BU

Nov. 10, 2004

By MEREDITH AMOS, reporter

Despite the perceived taboo that surrounds discussion of sex and its consequences, students are lining up to take Baylor's human sexuality course next semester.

With five sections of 40 students each, the class continues to form a lengthy waiting list.

Tottering between tradition and progressivism, ideology and practicality, Baylor sometimes walks a fine line between cultivating Christian moral standards and coping with the more pragmatic aspects of the modern world.

Kristen Feller | Lariat staff
Planned Parenthood of Central Texas strives to provide quality reproductive health care and education.
Even in the secular realm, sexuality and its implications sometimes are hotly contested, but when tied to matters of faith, conflicts become deeply rooted in emotion and personal belief. Baylor sometimes struggles to strike a balance between protecting Baptist ideology and the sexual health of the student body.

According to the American Social Health Association's Web site, two-thirds of all STDs occur in people 25 years of age or younger and at least one in four Americans will contract an STD at some point in their lives.

Pat Stone, education director of Planned Parenthood, attributes these statistics to the tight-lipped American attitude toward sexuality. In Europe, she said, access to services and education makes their young people healthier.

"You can't replicate European culture here, but the major difference is sexuality and sexual health are considered public health issues, not moral, religious, political footballs to throw around," Stone said.

It is this reluctance to talk about the physicality of sex, Loeen Irons, human sexuality lecturer, said that leads to the ignorance she witnesses at the start of every semester.

"I ask my students, 'Who here has had comprehensive sex education in school or grew up in a household where these topics were discussed openly?' And usually out of 40 students only one or two raise their hands," Irons said.

The repercussions of such mass unawareness run far deeper than the immediate concerns of pregnancy to life-long reproductive health problems, said Stone.

"To withhold life-saving information in the world of sexual health, I think does kids a disservice, it leaves them unprotected, vulnerable," she said. "The consequences are just too drastic to just let them catch something and learn their lesson."

After taking the human sexuality course, which unflinchingly addresses all aspects of sexuality, Irons feels that most students are far more comfortable with saying "I'm not ready for this or if I am, I need to be much more careful."

However, for some, the fundamental principal of abstinence until marriage takes precedence over any conversation about contraception or any other practice, which would make premarital sex safer and therefore more accessible.

Co-director of Pro-Life Waco and sponsor for Bears for Life, Dr. John Pisciotta sees the discussion of contraceptives and the intricacies of sexual intercourse as a means of trivializing sex, turning it from a sacred act between a married couple to a recreational activity.

"From a Christian perspective, sex is not trivial, there are serious spiritual and psychological consequences," Pisciotta said. "Abortion really isn't the heart of the matter, it's the idea of 'anything-goes sexuality.' The idea that we have to break away from the inhibitions of Christianity to really enjoy our options."

Through the provision of materials and information about pregnancy and STD prevention, Pisciotta said he feels Planned Parenthood condones pre-marital sex, though indirectly.

"We're becoming an 'anything-goes' Christianity, and I think in many ways, we need to regain our footing," Pisciotta said. "There are moral principles in the bible, and we need to stand for those."

Open discussion of sex and Christianity are far from mutually exclusive as demonstrated by Rev. Michael Usey, former associate minister of Seventh and James Baptist Church.

In his February lecture to ministers and youth directors from the Waco area, Talking About Sex in the Sanctuary, Usey said, "Many consider it almost impossible to use sexual language in religious settings. ... But, if we are afraid of words, or fearful of talking about sex, then the message we send is that we are embarrassed by it."

Baylor's human sexuality course puts this policy into practice, using an abstinence plus curriculum, which stresses abstinence as a way of life but acknowledges the prevalence of pre-marital sex with comprehensive information on contraception, abortion and STDs.

"Statistically we know many of our students are sexually active, so our approach to contraceptives is very factual," Irons said. "We give them the latest information on contraceptives, and we have models of everything from the old-fashioned diaphragms to the newer fem-caps."

In looking for staff to teach the class, the department considers all aspects of the candidate's life including their own marital background, to reflect the benefits of a healthy and committed sexual relationship and importance of communication and understanding as a basis for that relationship.

"For most students this course is an eye-opening experience, and I'm proud of Baylor for supporting it," Irons said. "With good factual information and some more honesty from faculty, students are bright enough to figure it all out. They really are."