Sexual-health surveys clash

Some question the No. 1 ranking the "U" received from a Trojan survey.

Betsy Graca

Most students remember the awkward sex education videos and lectures that took place as early as elementary school. Now at the University, students have been surveyed to see how much of those lessons rubbed off on them.

Trojan condoms ranked the University the most sexually healthy school in a survey of 139 colleges across the country this September, but statistics released this month by Boynton Health Service raise some questions about the accuracy of that ranking.

According to Boynton’s survey, slightly more than 10 percent of sexually active University students have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection at some point in their lifetime.

Michael Bruno, senior account supervisor for Edelman, Trojan’s public relations service, said STI rates and other statistics were not part of Trojan’s criteria because the information was not available for every school.

Instead, the survey focused on the health services each school offered, such as contraceptive availability and sexual health awareness programs.

“Our study looks at the availability and access to sexual health resources and information,” Bruno said. “In that sense, I stand behind the study.”

Dr. Edward Ehlinger, director and chief health officer at Boynton, said when measuring sexual healthiness, considering statistics is important in getting accurate results.

“You want to make sure that the services you’re providing are actually doing some good, so that’s why I think that the data are really the things that really would say which campus is the most healthy in terms of sexual outcomes,” he said. “If they don’t have the data, then they can’t compare schools.”

Ehlinger said he wouldn’t label the University the most sexually healthy school in the country, but he would call it the campus with the best sexual health services.

Ehlinger said Trojan’s sexual health report card was more of a marketing campaign than a scientific study, designed to raise sexual health awareness concurrently with promoting their product.

“They know that when you rank institutions people pay attention, even if the rankings aren’t the most accurate and aren’t the most reflective of what’s going on,” he said.

However, Bruno said while getting people to practice safer sex translates into higher sales for Trojan, the research was conducted by an independent research firm that used scientifically based methods.

“It’s a scientifically sound study,” he said.

Since the 2006 sexual health report card, the University moved from No. 54 out of 100 schools to No. 1 – even after the addition of 39 schools to contend with.

David Dorman, a Boynton health educator, said Boynton didn’t change any services based on the ranking from 2006.

“That calls into account the validity of (Trojan’s) rankings,” he said.

Ehlinger said Boynton did not participate in Trojan’s survey and did not even know it was taking place.

Emily Matson, co-chairwoman of Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education, said Trojan did not contact the group for their survey either.

“They seem to think we improved somehow,” she said. “We’ve done nothing differently from last year.”

Eli Coleman, the director of the University’s Program in Human Sexuality, who also serves as a member of the Trojan advisory board, said the two studies, Trojan’s and Boynton’s, were like “comparing apples and oranges.”

Coleman said it would be interesting to see if there is a relationship between schools that scored higher on Trojan’s Report Card of services and Boynton’s study of student health.

Boynton’s statistics

Although the University might not be the most sexually healthy college in the country, Ehlinger said the results of the Boynton survey were still generally positive.

He said the University community’s low number of sexual partners proved to be one of the strongest attributes to overall sexual health.

According to the results, 77.8 percent of students reported they had zero or one partners in the past 12 months.

“Their partners are usually their fiancé or spouse or exclusive dating partner,” he said.

Dorman said there has also been general improvement in the rates of condom use.

“If you look at our data, condom usage rates go up each time we conduct a survey,” he said.

However, Ehlinger said there are still some areas needing improvement.

Ehlinger said condom use in nonvaginal intercourse and using withdrawal as a form of birth control are the two areas that need the most work.

According to the survey, 31.1 percent of people used condoms during anal sex versus 60 percent during vaginal intercourse.

Matson said the University’s rates of condom use with anal sex are way too low.

She said people don’t realize STIs are transmitted through anal sex.

According to the survey, 12.6 percent of University students use withdrawal as a method of birth control.

“You know what they call someone who uses withdrawal as for a pregnancy prevention method,” Ehlinger said. “A parent.”

Dorman said Boynton has already begun a social marketing campaign to address the use of withdrawal.

The Boynton survey was conducted through self-reporting from anonymous participants.

Coleman said the data is a modest estimate. If anything, the problems are probably greater than the data suggests.