- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2005

Parents and college officials must do more to address the “sexual chaos” on college campuses, says the founder of a medical group that promotes sexual health.

“The pressure on college youth to practice unhealthy behavior is much more intense than most adults realize,” said Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., founder of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are common among college students, as are alcohol abuse, “date rape” and depression, he said.

Parents, university personnel and others who care about the well-being of young adults have to act, Dr. McIlhaney said. He offers a list of ideas, including a return to single-sex dorms and bathrooms, more abstinence and pro-marriage messages and parent-led “inspector committees” to track high-risk health behaviors on all U.S. campuses.

Dr. McIlhaney isn’t the only one concerned about sexual libertinism on campus.

Theology professor Vigen Guroian has decried “the sex carnival that is college life today.”

Colleges once denounced debauchery, Mr. Guroian noted in an article on the ChristianityToday.com Web site. “Today, colleges not only turn a blind eye to this behavior but also set up the conditions that foster and invite it,” wrote Mr. Guroian, who teaches at Loyola College in Baltimore.

Indeed, college guidebooks talk about top “party” schools, while campus groups boldly advertise sex-toy sales, “fetish” fairs and other sexually oriented activities.

Barrett Seaman, author of a new book on “excesses” in campus life, sees all this but offers a more complex portrait.

Yes, coed dorms can be rife with “hookups” and underage drinking, Mr. Seaman writes in “Binge: What Your College Student Won’t Tell You.”

But in his visits to residential halls on 12 college campuses, the former Time correspondent also saw many dorms with adults on site, enforced “quiet hours,” lounges filled with late-night talking and dormmates treating one another “more like brothers and sisters than sex objects.”

University officials are “very attentive” to campus behavior problems, partly out of fear they will be sued for not protecting students, said Mr. Seaman. “What they have to do is be as prophylactic as possible, in any way they can. No pun intended.”

As a result, most campuses offer ongoing anti-drinking, anti-rape, anti-STD campaigns, programs, services and peer-led presentations as well as codes of conduct and disciplinary actions.

Alcoholic beverages — the “liquid courage” behind many dumb decisions — are a top target. “Virtually every institution in the country has got its eye open about issues relating to alcohol,” said Kevin Kruger of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

The goal, though, is behavior change rather than awareness, he said, because most college students “already know about STDs, AIDS and binge drinking.”

Some colleges favor peer education programs, while others are using online courses like Outside the Classroom and E-Chug to show cohorts of students — such as freshmen or new fraternity members — that most of their peers don’t binge drink, Mr. Kruger said.

Florida State University has seen positive changes since it started using “social norming” media campaigns on drinking, FSU officials Rick Howell and Michael Smith said in a press briefing last week with the National Social Norms Resource Center.

In 2002, for instance, about 51 percent of 1,339 FSU students said they had five or more alcoholic drinks at their last “party.” Seventy-three percent also thought the “typical student” at FSU drank that much.

FSU’s media campaigns clarify that most students consume no more than four drinks when they go out.

By 2005, fewer than 40 percent of 944 FSU students said they drank five or more drinks at their last party and the number who though the “typical student” drinks that much also fell, to 67 percent.

Another way to attack reckless drinking, advises Dr. Drew Pinsky, is to encourage a return to dating.

“If hooking up is so great, why do you have to be loaded to do it?” Dr. Pinsky asked an audience of Washington interns at a recent Independent Women’s Forum event.

Dating gives couples “more face-to-face time” when they are “not drunk and can hear each other,” said Dr. Pinsky, who hosts Discovery Health Channel’s “Strictly Sex With Dr. Drew.”

It’s also healthier than the casual sex that comes through hookups or “friends with benefits,” he said. Friends with benefits “looks great on paper, but it doesn’t work,” he added, “because somebody always gets attached,” and when the couple breaks up, that person gets hurt.

As for more parental involvement in student life, Mr. Seaman, the father of three post-college daughters, says that is probably not necessary.

Adults are already “ubiquitous” in student affairs, acting like “den mothers, advisers, impresarios, booking agents, counselors, prosecutors and cheerleaders,” and most students don’t need any more coddling, he said.

The big decision for parents is whether they should send their teens to residential colleges or have them stay closer to home. If they choose residential colleges, the parents should let them go, he said, adding that his personal solution to alcohol abuse is to lower the drinking age to 18 or 19, so students can be taught about responsible drinking.

But Dr. McIlhaney, who sees links among alcohol abuse, casual sex, depression and sexually transmitted diseases, thinks parents should be more involved on campus. The 15 million college students “are our own children or grandchildren,” he said, “and we are paying the bills, whether it is through taxes for public universities or tuition to private universities.”

The most common cause of infertility in the United States is STDs, said Dr. McIlhaney, an obstetrician and gynecologist. “The bottom line is solving these problems, not just playing catch-up with them.”

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