In December, the Students for Sexual Health (SSH) conducted a survey, created by Connor Kratz, MCAS ’18, that gathered information on Boston College students’ attitudes, habits, and behaviors regarding their sexual health.
The survey, posted in each of the four class Facebook groups, asked 60 questions and anonymously recorded responses. A total of 393 students participated, with students from each class year represented—the largest amount coming from the class of 2018, which accounted for 33.3 percent of responses, and 73.8 percent of the total participants were female.
Kratz said that his motivation for creating the survey was to provide the first piece of empirical evidence regarding sexual activity among students at a Catholic university. In his research, he said he couldn’t find a record of any data collected on this topic at other Catholic schools.
“I thought that was problematic in itself, that we don’t really even understand the full nature of the issue, because we haven’t even asked the question,” he said. “What kind of sexual behaviors are our students engaging in, and how do they feel and what are their views about sex?”
“The administration hasn’t really looked at any of these questions,” Kratz said. “Their assumption from their policy is that students are abstinent. However, the results of my survey show that that clearly wasn’t the case.”
The results of Kratz’s survey indicate that 79.9 percent of students are or have been sexually active while enrolled as a BC student, and 45 percent report having had two or more partners in the last year.
According to the University’s Code of Student Conduct, all students should adhere to the Catholic Church’s teachings with respect to sexual activity—incidents of sexual intercourse outside of marriage are subject to punishment via the Student Conduct System.
Of the respondents, 70.2 percent also stated that they either disagree or strongly disagree with the statement “I feel comfortable reaching out to my university (administrators, counselors, health services) with questions and concerns regarding my sexual health.”
“I think this really highlights the issue that it’s become so taboo that there isn’t even discussion on the topic,” Kratz said. “Even if administrators want to adhere to abstinence as their official position, they should at least try to foster an environment where students are comfortable reaching out.”
Kratz stated that he thinks the relatively absent discussion on sexual health on BC’s campus has contributed to less healthy behaviors among students—therefore, he believed it was important to provide some sort of demonstration to the administration that sexual health is a real issue for students.
In Kratz’s survey, only 42.4 percent of students indicated that they always use a condom during genital or anal sex, and 94.3 percent of participants said that they never use a condom or dental dam during oral sex. 44.3 percent responded that they are not aware of any locations where students can access contraception and sexual health resources proximate to campus.
Additionally, 48.5 percent of respondents indicated that they have never been tested for HIV or STIs, and 42.5 percent indicated that they are not aware of any locations students can be tested for HIV or STIs proximate to campus.
Kratz said that he hopes to distribute the information from his survey data to students in some sort of concise report in the future, as he believes it concerns them and therefore wants to make it more accessible.
On Tuesday, Kratz, who is a member of the Student Assembly (SA) of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, presented a resolution on the question of whether UGBC would affirm that SSH should be permitted to meet on campus and distribute contraceptives without University funding or recognition, which passed with 18 votes in favor.
Currently, SSH receives all of its funding from external grants that it applies for from health advocacy groups, and it distributes primarily on College Road, which is public property. According to Kratz, this can be an issue because a large portion of the student body usually doesn’t travel through that part of campus—and even then, it’s hard to reach those who do, as the group only distributes contraceptives once every couple of weeks.
“Our hope is that we can be a little closer to students so that they don’t have to go so out of their way to protect themselves,” Kratz said.
To host a student body-wide referendum on an issue, the BC Elections Committee must vote to accept the question, which in this case it has.
The next step for SSH is to collect signatures from 1,170 students—one-eighth of the student body—on a petition. If it succeeds, the question will be put on the elections ballot—the same one where students will vote for UGBC president and vice president.
Nevertheless, even if a majority of the students vote “yes” on the referendum, the administration can still decide not to change its policy.
“That is an important consideration,” Kratz said. “However, we believe … just having the vote in itself will be a victory for us—that we’ve actually, finally discussed the topic.”
In Kratz’s survey, 92.9 percent indicated they believe that sexual activity is safer in a college environment when the university provides students with contraceptives and other forms of STI protection, and 78.5 percent indicated that they would use sexual health resources if they were provided by student organizations allowed to distribute on campus.
The last time there was a referendum on the topic of sexual health was in Feb. 2009, when almost 90 percent of the students who voted affirmed that BC should improve its sexual health education and resources by allowing the availability of condoms on campus and offering affordable testing for STIs and prescriptions for birth control at Health Services.
According to Kratz, this referendum is trying to be more compatible with University policy, as it encourages the administration to allow SSH to provide sexual health resources, rather than asking the University itself to provide them.
“It’s really about trying to find middle grounds, trying to find a way to respect the cultural heritage of the University, while also being cognizant of just realities of student behavior and student life, and making sure that they’re cared for,” Kratz said.
Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor