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Andrew Guarino / Gavel Media

Fulfilling “People for Others” Includes Providing Sexual Healthcare

Boston College prides itself on its status as a Jesuit institution, but is such a strong emphasis on this tradition compatible with contemporary student needs? BC’s religious denomination influences its policies, decision making, and vision of student life. The student code of conduct was formed around Jesuit values and intends for students to embody it no matter their religion. Typical college activities tend to not fall into the most holy categories, a prime example being premarital sex which the Catholic Church staunchly condemns. At BC, our Jesuit (yet modern) university, there is no way for students to receive or distribute contraceptives on campus. While BC is entitled to uphold the stances of the Catholic Church, they also have an obligation to protect the health and safety of their students. BC can maintain its religious message of disapproving of sex while still acknowledging, for the safety of our community, that BC students have sex and therefore provide resources that stem from this recognition.

The research article “Sexually Transmitted Infections Among College Students” noted that the highest prevalence of STIs is among college-aged students, which may, in part, be attributed to the “hookup culture” and the rise in dating apps. It’s clear that college students are engaging in sexual activity. Sexually transmitted diseases and infections are transmitted from person to person through intimate physical contact including vaginal, oral, and anal sex as well as through bodily fluids such as blood. Unplanned pregnancies also can occur if protection is foregone during sex. An NCSL article noted that women aged 20 to 24 account for one-third of all unintended pregnancies. Lack of knowledge about sexual health as well as a lack of access to effective services and resources can present barriers to preventing unintended pregnancy and the transmission of STIs. 

Five practices are echoed among these articles in preventing the transmission of STIs and unintended pregnancies: practicing abstinence, using condoms, having fewer sexual partners, getting vaccinated, and getting tested regularly. Abstinence is what schools like BC push onto its students due to their religious values.

Unfortunately, many BC students do not enter college with comprehensive sexual education during their secondary schooling. Among the class of 2026, 20.6% of students attended Catholic or Jesuit high schools and another 29% attended private or independent schools. This statistic is concerning in terms of community sex education, as privately funded schools have more discretion in terms of what sexual education they choose to provide students. Even among the students who attended public school, comprehensive sex education is far from guaranteed. Of the 39 states that require sex/HIV education in public schools, less than half of these states require the information to be medically accurate. 

Professor Alison Marshall of the Connell School of Nursing researches sexual health, women's health, community health, and sexually transmitted infections. She shared with The Gavel that “it becomes an issue when there's a misunderstanding of biology.” These misconceptions surrounding disease spread and pregnancy create harmful consequences in terms of overall community health if not intervened upon with comprehensive sex education. 

While University Health Services offers STI testing, BC emphasizes its religious values and upholds that students should not engage in premarital sex. The BC student handbook has a section which addresses sexual activity: “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.” This also implies that resident assistants are supposed to knock on residents’ doors if they suspect they are having sex. While RAs may not do this in practice, it seems like an overreach of the university and breach of privacy, and honestly puts RAs in a very awkward position with their residents. If residents ask their RA about where to find contraceptives or other sexual health resources, RAs likely will have to point them to off-campus resources. The Women’s Center staff are expected to be willing to talk to students about anything and everything, but will take similar course of action in pointing students to off-campus resources for obtaining sexual health materials. 

These moral values directly inform BC’s lack of sexual health resources on campus. Therefore, “University Health Services, by policy, does not provide materials for the purpose of preventing conception or counsel that would encourage abortion.”

We also reached out to UHS for further information and did not receive a response. 

Currently, BC’s only sexual education and wellbeing resources are reactive, not proactive. UHS offers STI and pregnancy testing, but for some students this is not ideal because those labs show up on insurance charges. These are the only resources that BC offers, and while STI and pregnancy testing is very important, it is solely reactive. A proactive approach would be to provide more information and resources about sexual health for students. This approach would also likely save UHS many appointments that could be avoided if contraceptives were available and accessible for students on campus. 

Similarly, numerous female students noted that there is a stigma around UHS and sexual health services. A student noted that she felt that some of the staff judged or shamed her for going to UHS for STI testing. Referring to the studies and data about sexual health, STI testing is one of the best and proactive steps a person can take to being safe and healthy sexually. 

This policy also means that BC will not allow any clubs on campus with address sexual health, provide sexual health resources, or educational resources. Any organization related to these issues which attempted to be approved by BC has been rejected or banned from existing on campus. 

We also reached out to the Students for Life Club, aka the pro-life club, to see if they provide any sexual health or education resources. However, they did not respond to our inquiry. It is an interesting dynamic that BC promotes the Catholic value of abstaining from sex until marriage, but the pro-life club focuses their energies on a post-sex conversation, acknowledging that students are indeed having sex. Why is this club allowed on campus, but not others?

BC’s limitations on sexual health and education resources are especially contrary to the Women’s Center’s mission to “support, educate, and empower students.” A few miles up the road at Boston University’s Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism, all students can access free condoms and dental dams. The existence of these supplies at BU reveals that there is a demand for sexual health resources on college campuses. 

Currently, the only resources related to sexual safety at the Women's Center address sexual misconduct, which include Bystander Intervention and the Sexual Assault Network (SANet). Under the University’s restrictions, the demand for sexual health resources for consensual sexual experiences is not able to be met by the appropriate centers at Boston College. 

This issue is not unique to BC. It is common across other Catholic and non-religious universities alike all around the nation. Many other Catholic universities, such as Villanova, Holy Cross, Fordham, Georgetown, Marquette, and Fairfield have similar policies and resources as BC. Nevertheless, through our research we found one Catholic university which transcends its “moral values” to provide more resources for its students. The University of San Francisco is a Jesuit, Catholic institution and similar to BC, aims to uphold its Catholic values. Their site on Birth Control (Contraceptive) Methods notes, “we provide the following information not to promote the use of contraception, but rather to help those who choose to be sexually active. In particular, we encourage all who are sexually active to behave responsibly in their decisions. Whatever your sexual orientation happens to be, if you choose to be sexually active, it is also very important to be respectful of yourself and your partners, including reducing the risk of passing sexually transmitted infections.” 

USF provides an extensive list of contraceptive methods from the CDC, and while it is unclear if they offer these services on their on-campus clinic, it is a step up from what information BC offers. USF is an example of a university upholding Catholic values while recognizing that sexual health is a community issue that the institution is obligated to address. Even our rival, Notre Dame, offers more information about STIs and how to reduce the risk of transmission. Notre Dame also promotes unmarried students to practice abstinence, but their sexual health site provides information for students who are sexually active. The website recommends: “Use condoms that are labeled for STI protection. Natural skin or animal membrane condoms are not effective for STI protection. Get evaluated at least once a year. Include STI testing as part of a regular medical check-up.” This information is crucial for students who do not have previous knowledge or education relating to sexual health and activity. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Contraceptive Mandate requires that employers and health insurers cover contraceptive costs within insurance plans; however, Jesuit Universities may be able to cite a religious exemption for some forms of contraction which subsequently prevents students from reaping the benefits of this legislation. There are numerous reasons beyond pregnancy prevention for people with internal genitalia to use contraceptives including irregular periods, alleviating menstrual cramps, relieving endometriosis symptoms, clearing up acne and necessary in combination with Accutane, and more. These are all health-related reasons that help to care for a person’s body. 

Not only are students on Jesuit campuses denied the physical resources of contraception, but they are also denied the proper educational resources to make informed decisions when accessing off-campus resources. This denies students full bodily autonomy and restricts their ability to make the most informed decision in regard to their health. 

Yet, these are central Jesuit principles manifested through “Cura Personalis.” Cura Personalis is the Jesuit concept of concern and care for the development of the entire individual, specifically care for the mind, body, and spirit and dedication to human dignity. This is the Jesuit principle which BC and the Women’s Center cites for its reasoning for supplying feminine hygiene products on campus to students. BC could hypothetically cite Cura Personalis for its reasoning in providing contraceptives to students on campus as it these resources help to reduce unintended pregnancies and prevent the transmission of STIs, which contribute to care for the health of the individual. Providing contraceptives would likely cause a reduction in UHS visits for STI and pregnancy testing. Providing contraceptives and educational resources also acknowledges and protects the religious freedoms of students who do not identify with the Catholic faith. This is a valid argument when applied to BC because students are not required to align themselves with the Catholic denomination to attend the university; there is a diversity of religious affiliations at BC. It is also important to remember that BC’s primary mission is not to express and advance the Catholic faith, but as a university to provide an education to its students. 

There is also a larger conversation to be had within the Catholic community about Catholic and Jesuit universities’ responsibilities to provide contraception and educational resources to students and, more generally, the Church’s stance on contraception in modern day. These arguments follow that Jesuit universities should provide such resources because of the rates of unintended pregnancies for college students, the need to destigmatize women’s health and contraception, and women’s rights to these resources.  

While advocacy for more sexual health resources on campus is important, the reality is that significant strides on this front might not be made for a while. Students cannot wait for resources. Despite the university administration’s values, these policies are realistically not stopping students from having sex. When community members need access to contraceptives and sexual education, where should they go? Fortunately, Boston College is located in a healthcare safe haven.

There is an off-campus organization, specifically dedicated to alleviating this issues for Boston College Students–Students for Sexual Health. This organization is in no way affiliated with the University, as per University policies. However, it provides resources, rubber hub, and general knowledge about sexual health designed for BC students who otherwise lack access on campus. An anonymous member of the organization noted that “BC dances around the issue, leading to a toxic environment.” This is in regards to missteps of UHS and BC not providing all resources as the University cannot refuse to help its students in STI transmission prevention. A lack of education can cause serious mistakes and dangerous situations. The SSH member emphasized that the most important thing in this conversation is “people understanding that there is no shame in being sexually active, there should be no pressure regarding that. If BC cares about student safety, [then] they would understand the importance of sexual safety.” That is the basis as to why SSH provides resources and information where BC falls short. SSH has gained a lot of traction among BC students, which shows that sexual health is important to the student body and that students would benefit from more resources on campus. 

For students looking for resources beyond what SSH can provide, The Massachusetts Sexual Health and Reproduction Program alleviates barriers to sexual healthcare by extending free services to vulnerable populations. Anyone who is uninsured, low income, or needs confidential care—insured or not—is eligible to receive free services through this program. Boston College students can access these services through Community Health Centers and the closest clinic to BC’s campus is at Charles River Community Health

Alternatively, the Planned Parenthood network is a trusted source of reproductive healthcare. If insurance confidentiality or out-of-pocket costs are a concern, a Community Health Center might be the better option. 

The growing Telehealth industry also offers an appealing draw for care. While Telehealth options are available, the breadth of care is still relatively limited in comparison to in-person options. Seeking sexual healthcare at a clinic is affordable, accessible, and confidential. 

When sexual healthcare needs are not met, the entire community is at risk. This year, BC launched a new undergraduate major in Global Public Health and the Common Good. The program is rooted in the Jesuit ethics of addressing social injustices in public healthcare. Before BC can distinguish itself as a leader in public health, university leadership must reflect on the harmful impact that negligent policies have on the health of the community. As BC students, we are privileged with an education that empowers us to assess issues in the community and advocate for changes that promote the common good. We encourage the BC community to recognize that this issue impacts everyone, no matter gender, socioeconomic status, education–sexual health is a universal human experience. By reforming the university’s current positions and adopting modern and comprehensive sexual healthcare practices, Boston College can act as a leader among Catholic institutions and fully manifest the Jesuit goal of care for the entire person. 

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