Florida A&M University’s health center director Tanya Tatum takes her job seriously. So when she read a story about a pregnant student at South Carolina’s Benedict College, her own resolve for the center’s sexual education efforts was strengthened:
“[She] was pregnant, had a child, delivered the child in the residence hall. The infant lived for three days, and in three days they found both infant and the mother dead. School is in session. Part of me was horrified, and part of me was so sad, because I sit and I wonder, how could this have happened?”
Tatum believes incidents like that point to a lack of understanding about sex and the sense of discomfort students can feel about discussing such issues with authority figures. As part of her department’s ongoing efforts to break down those barriers, Tatum and a team of other FAMU health officials and students held a series of seminars and have taken to social media for frank -- and often cringe-worthy -- conversations about relationships, health and sex.
“Don’t yuck someone else’s yum," explains Randy Henley, a recent FAMU graduate who helps run the FAMU Health Department’s Twitter account.
“Basically, if we’re going to talk about sex as adults, what you like may not be what I like, but I don’t yuck your yum. You like it? Cool; we’ll discuss it, how it can be safer and how you get to enjoy it without the risk, or lowered risk," Henley said.
Throughout September, Tweets like "yuck/yum" appeared on the account, complete with explanations and information, as part of the center’s annual sexual health and relationship awareness campaign, Sexpectations.
“We want to create an environment where people can ask questions no matter what. And then they can get correct information and learn what they need to do to be as safe as possible. We don’t want to set up barriers right up front," Tatum says.
Sex: The Common Denominator
“Everyone is attracted to sexuality, in some form or another, and it’s how we all came to be," says Jennifer Bass, spokeswoman for the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.
For more than 65 years, the Center has been researching sex and sexuality. It even has a podcast, “Kinsey Confidential,” where people can go and ask any question they want, and Bass says the questions cover a broad range of issues.
“‘Is this really sex? If I did this with my boyfriend am I still a virgin?' Or, 'Why does it hurt when this happens?' And, you know, it’s very graphic," Bass explains.
She applauds the FAMU Health Center for its Twitter efforts, and thinks it’s better to talk out loud about an issue most people only whisper about. And she notes more talking is needed, especially because not all information is the right information:
“In spite of the fact there’s so much information, we’re flooded with sexual images, in magazines, the Internet—everywhere we turn...people are still looking for a trusted source to tell them that they’re okay and to help them with very common issues and common problems.”
Why Talk About It?
Leon County health officials also applaud FAMU’s efforts. That’s because the county, with its large college-aged population and sizeable transient population of lawmakers, lobbyists and other officials—also has high rates of sexually-transmitted diseases, especially among people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Oasis Center for Girls' Executive Director Haley Cutler says conversations about sex, health and relationships need to start sooner.
“Answering their real questions and talking about their real fears, are things very few grown-ups do," she said. "Talking about it, and allowing them to use the words they use to describe their bodies and the activities they’re involved in—they don’t get to do that. And they’re not talking about it with their parents. Flat out.”
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