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Jesuits, Sex, and Condoms—Oh My!

As a Catholic institution on the outskirts of a city that espouses “New York values” and liberal ideas of the like, Boston College represents a majority conservative island in a sea of blue—despite the university’s claims that “[t]he Catholic intellectual tradition is not static traditionalism, but is constantly evolving” to fit the needs of its students. However, it is evident that this “constantly evolving” Catholic tradition is not evolving rapidly enough for the millennials it is educating. BC fails to “educate the whole person” by prioritizing administrative needs and wants over those of its students. Ironically, the religious foundation on which the university was built is now the very thing that is holding Boston College back from accomplishing its mission.

So what is it that Boston College fails to offer to its students despite inherent want and apparent need? Sex education. That’s right. College students want to talk about sex, and BC students are no different. In fact, 90% of the undergraduate student body agrees that BC needs to improve sexual health education and resources on campus.

With a largely Catholic student body, many of which were funneled from Catholic high schools, a lot of students either did not receive any sex education in high school, or it was brief and uninformative. One student who attended a Catholic high school says, “In high school we didn’t learn anything [about sex education], it was abstinence only. And ‘if you’re going to do it, use a condom.’ But they never taught us how to use them or anything.”

This story isn’t uncommon. The CDC reports that only 67% of eighteen-year olds in the U.S. have received instruction on methods of birth control. With an estimate of 80% of currently enrolled college students sexually active, this is a huge source of concern, and Boston College should take responsibility for educating its students.

However, the Jesuit university strictly adheres to its Catholic roots, forbidding both contraceptives and premarital sex (90% of sexual activity) on campus. The Student Handbook directly states:

“All students have a responsibility to respect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution, including adhering to the Church's teachings with respect to sexual activity. Consequently, incidents of sexual intercourse outside the bonds of matrimony may be referred to the Student Conduct System.” (4.6.8: Sexual Activity)

However, it’s no secret that every student does not live by these rules.

So what is the administration doing about it? Not much, students say. An anonymous RA says, “I feel like, at a micro level, the administration doesn’t care. I don’t think it’s feasible for them to care.” He continues, “No one ever wants to write it up . . . it feels hypocritical.”

Sam Kramer, MCAS ’20, argues, “The issue is that the administration says that they don’t want people to have sex, but then in reality, they don’t care if people are having sex, which is dangerous.” She continues, “It’s dangerous because they don’t have services that students need. I think they should provide birth control, at least condoms. No matter what, kids are going to have sex, and they should have safe sex.”

The statistics, too, suggest that the administration’s approach is only detrimental; young people who have received abstinence-only sexual education are one-third less likely to use contraception than their peers with a comprehensive sexual education. They are also less likely to seek STI testing and diagnosis. By failing to even acknowledge the existence of premarital sex on campus, BC is endangering the health of its students.

After the group, Boston College Student for Sexual Health, was forced underground in 2009, making national news, the administration did not only make it impossible to acquire contraceptives on campus, but also effectively silenced the open dialogue regarding sexual health that the group was working to facilitate.

Sam Kramer says, “Personally, I think that I have a really good community of people that I can talk about this stuff safely with . . . but I know that’s not the case for a lot of people at BC.”

Boston College has created a culture where sex is so taboo that students feel uncomfortable talking about it. This can lead to situations in which neither party is sharing their sexual expectations with one another, and even the simple exchanging of consent feels “awkward.”

But what is perhaps even more alarming is that this is incredibly common among college students; research shows that more than half of people aged 18 to 22 reported that they feel it is “awkward” to verbally “give the green light” or say “stop.”

It is no wonder that sexual assaults on college campuses are on the rise. A lack of comprehensive sexual education leaves young people uncomfortable talking about sex and uninformed on the nature of consent. Consent is not just a yes or no question; it is an ongoing conversation between two people about what they both expect and want out of a sexual encounter. How can we hope to change the statistics of campus sexual assault if many students do not fully understand the concept of consent or find themselves unable to have that conversation with a partner?

If Boston College really wants to “educate the whole person,” silencing the conversation about sex instead of facilitating dialogue only distracts from that goal. Boston College needs to start offering support to its students. So let’s take a break from all the talk about dating, and talk about sex.