By Callie Otto, Catholic University Students for Choice co-founder & Choice USA intern
As a reproductive justice advocate at one of the most conservative colleges in the country (that is The Catholic University of America) the last few years have been nothing short of challenging. Figuring out how to get around the no condoms policy, being slut-shamed by a doctor at my campus health center, getting my favorite professor in deep shit for allowing me to talk about my pro-choice views in class, volunteering as a clinic escort at the same clinic my some of my peers sit and pray outside of — yes, I’d say it has been a challenge.
These challenges have made me bitter. Bitter about the fact that I’m consistently denied my right to do or say anything about these issues. But bitter has made me want to speak louder, it has made me want to talk about it more, listen to people’s stories, strategize, obsess, and do something about it. And as I’ve come to obsess about this, I’ve gained a bit of a reputation. I am that girl. The girl that drives around in the bright blue car covered in liberal bumper stickers that has been dubbed by some as the “dykemobile.” The girl that always talks about that “reproductive justice” stuff. That girl that knows everything about sex. The girl you go to, and you send your friends to, for any question you may have about sex.
Becoming that girl has been awesome, especially because I hope to one day become a real human sexuality educator. But being that girl at The Catholic University of America? It’s also terrifying. Not because I fear getting caught, but because the stories and questions my peers (and even a professor or two) have shared with me are scary. So many of these people have no clue about their sexual health; they were never taught about it, and now, as adults, they don’t know where to go or who to talk to.
Most of my friends are not on birth control. Most of them have never been tested for STD’s (in Washington, D.C., HIV is an epidemic). Most of them use condoms most of the time, but not all the time (like those drunken 3AM nights when spending your last $5 on pizza seems like a much better decision than spending it on a few condoms); and never during oral sex. Most of my friends had abstinence-only education. Most of my friends can’t ask their family members about sex and their bodies because they fear their parents’ wrath. Most of my friends can’t go to our campus health center because they refuse to offer any services that might encourage more sex.
Most of my friends are having sex, yet they feel like it’s something to be ashamed of. What would my parents think? What would my church think? They have been taught their entire lives that sex outside of marriage is bad, they have been denied their right to comprehensive sex education. Most of them are comfortable in their decision to become sexually active, but so many of them feel ashamed, embarrassed, and uncomfortable talking about it. They were never given the tools to take care of their bodies; they either don’t know where to start, or they don’t understand why they need to start.
Most of my friends have been lied to, and as they begin to navigate the world as adults, they seem to struggle in determining what is true and what isn’t. “I would be on birth control but I’m not because I just don’t have enough sex to be paying that kind of money. I go months without sex, that’s months of money spent on birth control for no reason.” And, “I’m under CUA’s insurance. You think I’m going to spend $100 a month on birth control pills? I’d rather just have sex when its safe.” (Safe, she claimed, was the first few days after her period.)
So many of my peers seem to be lost. They simply don’t understand the risks they are taking by not being safe about sex. Why would they? How are they supposed to figure it out if they don’t even know where to look? What if they don’t know why they need to to look?
It is because of this that I will be watching carefully how the new opt-out of the contraception mandate will be implemented. The devil will be in the details. The Obama administration has clarified that for non-profits who consider themselves to be religious institutions, such as my alma mater, they will not have to pay for contraception in their health plans. However coverage will be provided in a wholly separate plan provided by the insurance company. It is probably safe to assume this extra step of a separate plan will involve additional paperwork and processes to get the contraception-only coverage activated. This may sound simple to some, but for those who are navigating the healthcare world on their own for the first time (and the sexual world!) this may prove harder than it seems.
This White House has brought an unprecedented expansion of access to contraception and a whole host of other sexual and reproductive health services. I hope these rules are implemented in a way that doesn’t tarnish that record by putting barriers up for students at religious institutions. Students at my school are having sex, not talking about it, and have been continuously brushed to the side, as though we need access to contraceptives less than everyone else. Please trust me when I say, I used to live in a fraternity house, we need our contraceptives. We deserve access to contraceptives, to information, to sexual health resources. We demand it.