Med schools debate sex ed

The amount of time devoted to sexual health studies is at issue nationwide.

by Jamie VanGeest

There’s sex in movies, sex in the city and sex in the bedroom, but some are concerned about the amount of sexual education in medical schools.

Officials at the University’s Medical School said they think sex is the most buried subject on some medical schools’ curricula.

Eli Coleman, director of the University’s Program in Human Sexuality, said the amount of time devoted to sexual health studies in medical schools nationwide is inadequate.

The debate in medical schools across the nation is whether to address sexual

curriculum in a separate, required course or if these issues should be incorporated into the overall curriculum, said Jeff Emrich, curriculum coordinator for the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine.

At the University of Minnesota, all first-year medical students are required to take a two-week course called Human Sexuality, which addresses issues such as sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual development in childhood, adolescents and adults, Coleman said.

The course also covers sexual function and dysfunction in men and women, contraception, abortion, childhood sexual abuse, adult sexual abuse and chronic sexual disabilities and illnesses, he said.

Coleman, an instructor of the sexuality course, said the school has one of the “premier” programs in human sexuality and if the curriculum were to be embedded in other courses, it would be lost.

June LaValleur, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who also teaches the human sexuality class, said it is “key” that this course be required for medical students.

Third-year medical student Lissa Lubinski said she learned a lot in the human sexuality class, but questioned why there is a separate course on this topic alone.

“I think by having a separate class, they are separating (sex) like they do in society,” Lubinski said.

Nersi Nikakhtar, a faculty member for internal medicine for the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, graduated in 2001 from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I think (sexual education) is a little undervalued in education; it becomes very pathologized in the way it’s taught,” Nikakhtar said.

While he was in residency at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, Nikakhtar learned the human sexuality course at the University of Wisconsin Medical School was cut and integrated into the other medical school courses.

Now, at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, much of the school’s sexual health training is incorporated into a patient, doctor and society class taken by first- and second-year medical students, said Jane Crone, a faculty associate there.

“I think it’s something that needs to be well incorporated into the curriculum,” Crone said. “The feedback we get from students is very positive.”

There is an optional elective course at the University of Wisconsin Medical School on human sexuality that students can take if they want a more advanced understanding of the topic.

The University of Wisconsin program isn’t different from any other “very good” programs around the country, Crone said.

Now the Carver School of Medicine also has a separate two-week course in human sexuality.

Next year, the school will incorporate some of the more “medically regulated” topics from the human sexuality class into other courses, Emrich said.

“For example, male impotence will be addressed in urology,” he said.