Many college freshmen arrive on campus with only a cursory middle or high school sex ed class in their background, having potentially ‘Googled’ for answers related to their sexual and reproductive health questions that seemed too taboo or embarrassing to discuss in person. Answers surrounding how to use contraception, how alcohol impairs sex, and how changing menstrual cycles impact pregnancy risk may be hidden in dated, dusty health class notebooks or between the lines in lifestyle magazines. But, more often than not, students have unanswered questions relating to their reproductive health, despite being on campus during a pivotal time in their sexual lives.

Sometimes students arrive on campus having no prior sexual education—seems unlikely? Not as uncommon as you think! John Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight” recently shed light on the dismal standards of sex education in the United States. There is currently no required standard for sex education in this country’s schooling system, and of the 22 states that do have mandated sex education instruction, only 13 require this instruction to be medically accurate! Often when schools provide sex education, it is conflated with having sex, rather than an understanding of reproductive anatomy and function. Research indicates 1 in 4 college students contract STD’s and 42% of pregnancies result from inconsistent or incorrect contraceptive use—statistics that could likely improve with increased knowledge.

To close this knowledge gap, Dr. Teresa Woodruff, Vice Chair for Research in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University, created Introduction to Reproduction, a free online class to teach basic concepts in sexual and reproductive health. This course is everything first-year students need to know about sex and reproduction, and didn’t know to ask. “Having sex is not the same thing as knowing how it all works,” says Woodruff, and this crash-course in sexual and reproductive health demystifies myths that have been convoluted and twisted through decades of misconceptions and unanswered questions to ‘taboo’ inquiries. “If you Google the words ‘penis’ or ‘fallopian tube’ or ‘vagina,’ you get to places on the web that can be confusing at best or unsavory at worst—when all you are trying to find out is, ‘what does this mean?’” said Woodruff.

In a series of short (two to five minutes) videos, students will learn about the rise and fall of hormones, fallopian tubes, STD’s and how to avoid them, sexual violence, fertility after cancer, the workings of the penis, and much more. The course can be accessed by anyone, anytime, and anywhere, and delivers a biological, anatomical context to sex and reproduction. Much like AlcoholEdu provided a physiological context to socialized drinking, Introduction to Reproduction offers a biological lens through which to understand sex in relation to general health. It is time to have a candid conversation about sex and treat it as we would any other biological function; breaking the taboos surrounding this topic can bring us all one-step closer to improved holistic health.  

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