In my line of work, from time to time, I get asked to give a talk on safe(r) sex to a group of college students. Since there’s a good chance that today’s audience member may someday become tomorrow’s patient when they come see me for a pregnancy test or pill prescription, I like to think of myself as having a professional interest in their sexual health. The way that most primary care providers feel about getting their smokers to quit smoking, or their obese patients to drop a ton of weight (perhaps through a reasonable diet, regular exercise, and more than likely a lap band), I care about getting my patients to engage in safer sex.
Now, I was never a hookup girl. I was far too freaked out by those presentations in health Ed with the pictures of the drips and sores and BABIES to get lackadaisical about giving it up. They totally worked on me, 100%. Seriously, I can’t imagine why any parent would ever opt out of those classes for their kids – if they don’t sit through the class, with all the terrible pictures and latex-sheathed bananas and general sense of discomfort, what’s to keep them from engaging in a metric ton of awkward, sweaty, unsafe teenage sex? No one has presented the counterargument! This is a problem!
Anyhow. Back to college. So here I am, sitting in some dorm’s common room, eating cold pizza with a bunch of students. I have a tidy little PowerPoint. With edgy colors and asymmetrical formatting. And clickers! I talk about condoms, and pregnancy, and STIs, and communication, and consent, and I even manage to throw in some hip-sounding language, proving how not-old and not-uncool I am. I am ROCKING this. Seriously, I think someone’s about to sign me to a paid speaking tour of local colleges.
And they’re all like, Yeah! We know all about preventing STIs, and pregnancy, and consent, and healthy sexuality! And I’m like, HELL YEAH! So then I say,
“So, what are some things that make it tough to talk about this stuff with a partner?”
And one supremely confident girl sitting in front says,
“Well, I mean, that wouldn’t work for, like, a hookup. I mean, in a one night stand, you’re not gonna take the time to talk. And I mean, you’re usually drunk anyways.”
And the room laughs and nods knowingly. Almost… appreciatively. Wait – in retrospect – definitely appreciatively.
I’ve heard about these millenials and their hookup culture. The media loooooooves to write about it, I suspect because it’s a tidy way to write something prurient disguised as social responsibility and sell a ton of magazines.
But I think I fell into the trap that we health care providers frequently do. “This person is engaging in an unsafe behavior because they don’t know any better. Good thing they have such a brilliant and fabulous provider right here, who’s going to show them the light. Knowledge deficit, consider thyself cured. CHECK.”
If it were that easy, Dunkin’ Donuts wouldn’t exist. Donuts have zero redeeming nutritional value. Only bad things happen when people eat donuts. Yet I’ve seen dueling DDs on opposing street corners in more towns in the Northeast than the Northeast should care to admit. And every single one of them is busy. Do you really need a vat of Coolatta at your side every minute of every day, people? No. No, you don’t.
But I’m pretty sure you’re not waiting in line at Dunkies before, during and after work just because your health care provider forgot to tell you that donuts and sweet, vaguely coffee-ish drinks are unhealthy.
Not that all college students are hooking up right and left with anything that moves. In fact, last year’s National College Health Assessment, an enormous annual survey of college students and the crazy things they do, indicated that 75% of all students had sex with only zero or one partner in the previous year. So maybe college isn’t all a big alcohol-fueled orgy after all?
This stat brings to mind the other patient I see in my office, and not infrequently. The one who’s having sex with her boyfriend – only – and who’s on the pill AND takes it perfectly every day with an alarm on her cell phone that goes off in the middle of the dining hall AND uses condoms every single time AND takes Plan B if she was an hour late with her pill. She’s usually a nursing student. This is not a coincidence.
But I don’t have trouble reaching her. She doesn’t even need me. She wasn’t standing in line for a Coolatta in the first place.
So what CAN we do to help make hookups a little safer? Or less common?
I don’t actually have a punchline here. Because I clearly don’t have the answer. So if one of the hook-uppers (hook-upees?) of the world would like to let me know, so I can start making my sex Ed presentations sound less like Mom Talk and more like something that people may actually want to sit through, it would be greatly appreciated.