Eat right. Wear seatbelts. Avoid cigarettes. Use sunscreen. Yearly, thousands of college kids hear this wisdom from their university health services and wellness professors.
However, it is unlikely these same students will hear this gem: “Casual sexual liaisons on college campuses are hazardous, especially for young women. Medically and psychologically, it’s wise to wait.”
One campus psychiatrist wants to know why this advice is rare. She notes: “College health centers do a great job educating students about all sorts of health issues. These professionals expect that, given accurate information, students will make smart choices. They recommend, ‘have the salad instead of the pizza.’ They assume that young people are capable of self-discipline — and expect it of them. There’s only one exception: sexual health. Here students are told: Limit your partners, and use latex. Well, it’s not working.”
This psychiatrist should know. I can tell you she is employed in the college counseling center of a major university and is also the author of a new book, “Unprotected,” which describes the risky practices of the typical university health and counseling center. What I cannot tell you is her name.
The author of “Unprotected” has taken the name Dr. Anonymous because she is fearful of professional reprisals for her stunningly candid picture of college health today. In an interview, she told me she feels very much at risk. “I’m discussing a taboo topic here: the dangers of radical social agendas in my profession. My colleagues are well-intentioned, and care deeply about their patients. But campus counseling centers are whitewashing the painful consequences of casual sex, STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] and abortion. They are promoting the notion that men and women are the same. They are not educating young people about future and family. In these issues, so central to campus health and counseling, we are failing our young people.”
Dr. Anonymous says she is inhibited by her profession from warning students about the risks of unrestrained sexual behavior, perhaps, she believes, because it sounds judgmental. The anything-goes mentality has found its way in to campus health. However, she says, morals aside, “It is not smart to hook up, especially for women.”
A superb storyteller, she describes patients who pursue success by eating well, exercising and structuring their lives to get good educational experiences. However, what they don’t do well is manage healthy intimate lives. One student, Heather, told Dr. Anonymous she was depressed but never considered it might relate to a loveless “friends with benefits” relationship with a young man. Dr. Anonymous says the young woman said, “I’m confused, because it seems like I don’t get the ‘friend’ part, but he still gets the ‘benefits.’ ” Has any mental health or health professional informed Heather that research demonstrates casual sex is associated with an increased risk for depression? Apparently not.
Sadly, however, some prestigious universities present the opposite message. One shocking example from the book is the Columbia University Health Services’ Web site Goaskalice.com. The Web site portrays itself as a resource to help students “make responsible decisions regarding their health and well-being.” What can students learn there? Dr. Anonymous lists some of the questions addressed: “Health risks of bestiality;” and how to manage a threesome. You can even learn how to clean a bloody cat-o’nine-tails between sadomasochism sessions. And it’s all included in the tuition.
I searched the site for any mention of the relationship between casual sex and depression in young women to no avail. According to Dr. Anonymous, I should not waste my time, I won’t find anything to help students limit their sexuality, only express it.
In Unprotected, Dr. Anonymous advances a plausible theory that one reason college health services are inundated with depression, eating disorders and STDs is the failure of the health professions to address the medical and psychological risks of unrestrained sexual behavior. She also takes on the consequences of sexual license on long-term infertility in women, the effects of abortion on the mental health of women and men, as well as the role of religion in promoting good mental adjustment — all topics Dr. Anonymous says are ignored by today’s psychiatric profession.
I asked Dr. Anonymous what parents of college-aged students should do in response to reading her book. She advised: “Send them the book and use it to start a discussion. Tell your child these are true stories of students just like them: Smart, responsible young men and women who were not accurately informed, thought they were protected, and are now paying the price.” Perhaps, parents of university students should send a copy of the book along with their next tuition check.
The author intends such conversations, at all levels of the university. The back cover of the book predicts, ” ‘Unprotected’ will infuriate the health establishment and start a debate on campuses nationwide.” Indeed, fury and debate would be a good beginning. After that, I hope those inside and outside the academy heed the warnings and common sense advice of “Unprotected.” (“Unprotected” is published by Sentinel, an imprint of the Penguin Group.)
Associate professor of psychology and fellow for psychology and public policy at Grove City College (Pa). Also past-president of the American Mental Health Counseling Association. Contact him through his Web site at www.drthrockmorton.com.