Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

In Jennifer Riecks’s hometown of George, Iowa, sex was covered in school and abstinence was the norm.

Riecks had three separate sex education classes as she went through school, but her friend Amanda Tichy of Browerville, Minn. only had one class and her friend Marea Dashiell of Milbank didn’t have any structured sex education classes.

“(Sex) was more hush-hush in my school,” Dashiell said.

Now, the three are at college and confronting the situations their classes talked about. They are, in some ways, ground zero for a debate that rages over whether abstinence-only education will prevail in high schools.

If SDSU is anything like other colleges around the nation, 80 percent of its students are sexually active, according to human sexuality teacher and associate professor of human development and family studies Cindi Penor Ceglian. All students interviewed for this article said that number seems accurate.

“Most people I’ve talked to have had sex. Not many haven’t,” said freshman Rob Compart of Nicholl, Minn.

In addition, while many of the students interviewed for this article professed to believe that practicing abstinence was best, many also felt that moststudents fall short of practicing those beliefs. A few were willing to make amendments to their abstinence promise.

“If we’re getting married, but we’re not married yet, and we’re engaged, oh, hell yeah! Let’s have at it!” Riecks said.

Others also felt that most students change their tune about abstinence at college.

“Most guys don’t care (about staying abstinent),” said sophomore Andy Dalchow of Dlano, Minn. He added that many girls are more serious about remaining virgins, but he doesn’t believe many of them stick to their promises.

Welcome to the world of sex at SDSU.

The Budding Psychologists

The honorary psychology fraternity Psi Chi meets in Jack’s Place to discuss case studies over snack foods, while the warm smell of the sandwich shop fills the air.

“I think only teaching abstinence in high school is ridiculous,” said senior Jessica Einrem of Springfield, adding that her home economics teacher was fired after parents got upset when the teacher discussed birth control with her students.

According to the other Psi Chi members, sex may always be an issue in America.

“It’s kind of the American hypocrisy,” said advisor Dr. Brady Phelps of the psychology department. “We’re obsessed with sex, but it’s like we’re not even supposed to think about it.”

Phelps added that Europeans are much more open about sex and that one can walk into English drug stores and find sex toys right next to the aspirin.

The other Psi Chi members believed that SDSU’s sexual activity rate met the national rate of 80 percent, though some felt it might be slightly lower, due to strong and traditional values.

However, other factors play in to sexual decisions.

“There’s nothing else to do (here). That could factor in to it,” senior Sarah Powers of Watertown said, prompting the laughter of the other members.

Many of the members expressed concern about sexual abuse, saying they have heard stories of women not reporting sexual abuse or having their sexual abuse reported as something else.

In addition, the Psi Chi members expressed concern about students’ attitudes towards those of other sexual orientations.

According to Einrem, a man with a feminine voice in one of her classes is frequently made fun of by other students when he speaks up in class.

“What? Are we in second grade?” Einrem said.

Beresford native and junior Jessica Lambert said that one of the men she works with is homosexual and has had to leave SDSU to go to the University of Minnesota, Morris, since he felt unwelcome here.

“I know people that won’t go to the Safari Lounge anymore because they saw a gay couple in there,” said junior Josh Seezs of Milbank.

Ultimately, the Psi Chi members believed that college sex was here to stay, regardless of what abstinence groups may do to stop it.

“If you’re going to do it, you’ll do it,” said Jessica DeSchepper, a senior from Pipestone, Minn.

All in all, the members agreed that the open atmosphere in college led to more responsible sexual practice.

“When you’re in high school, you definitely don’t talk about sex, but you get to college and it’s no big deal (to talk about it),” said senior Christie Hosek of Chamberlain.

The Professor

Cindi Penor Ceglian has been teaching at SDSU since 1985. During that whole time, she has been teaching a class in human sexuality. In her nearly 20 years of teaching, she has seen numerous developments in her students, some positive, some negative.

Her human sexuality class is one of the few sexually oriented classes on campus and one of the few classes in South Dakota to offer sexual information outside of an abstinence-only position.

This can mean focusing on anything from sexually transmitted diseases to sexual orientations. The class also tackles sexual myths and stereotypes prevalent in society. According to Penor Ceglian, South Dakota students are much more educated in some areas and much less educated in others since she began teaching.

One frequent area where students have been misinformed involves the difference between male and female arousal.

“The students know that there’s a difference but putting a handle on what that difference is seems to be something that they’re interested in,” Penor Ceglian said.

While Penor Ceglian takes exception to abstinence-only education, saying it doesn’t adequately prepare students to make smart choices about sex, she does say that it has educated students about sexually transmitted diseases.

“When I first started teaching, I had just come off of being a sex educator and I was talking about chlamydia to the class and no one knew about it,” Penor Ceglian said.

Now, she said, it is far more common for the number of students who don’t know about chlamydia to be in the decided minority.

Penor Ceglian also said that students know far more about sexual orientations foreign to their traditional small town experiences.

“When I first started teaching, it was so closeted that I would ask the students if they knew anyone who was gay or lesbian and I would see one or two hands,” she said.

Now, when she asks that same questions, she usually sees a full third of the class raise their hands. She does not believe that more people are gay or lesbian now, but she does believe that more of them are proudly out of the closet.

However, she still does not support abstinence-only education.

“Students are not getting the information they need to make appropriate choices,” she said.

She believes that abstinence-only education strands students in college without knowledge of how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases in a place where far more people are sexually active.

Penor Ceglian looks at countries in Europe, which have sexual education programs that teach students about aspects of sex other than abstinence and points out that they have far fewer teen pregnancies, abortions and cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

“We can talk about sex in the sense of jokes, but we’re not really providing the education that we should,” she said.

In the end, she believes that classes like hers allow students to make the right choices for their lives about sex. She does not believe her job is to teach morality, but to provide information.

“I do think they need to have the information so that they can make their choices whatever those may be,” she said.

The Students

Sitting in the union, Michael Christensen looks at a full helping of chili cheese fries, as if trying to decide whether to eat them or not. Around him, the noise of the union swirls.

“I feel educated about sex. I don’t really have any questions about it,” the freshman said.

Christensen is not part of the minority Penor Ceglian fears he may be in. However, he may be getting his information from the wrong source.

Student Andy Dalchow, says schools teach about abstinence and sexually transmitted disease, but to learn about actual sex, teenagers turn to other sources.

“Sex you learn about from TV and stuff. You only hear about the bad things about sex in school,” Dalchow said.

According to junior and former resident assistant Jaime Haiar of Madison, sex is usually the product of parties.

“I think students are having sex because of the personal experience of hearing stories about friends and acquaintances and from observations at parties,” Haiar said. “It’s something that you deduce from hearing bits and pieces and from gossip.”

It’s not as though people are hiding their sexual experiences in dark closets, according to Riecks.

“Most people are quite open about their sexual experience,” she said.

“They talk about every time they’ve had it,” Dashiell added.

Haiar fears that people aren’t taking sex seriously anymore and that those who come in to college believing abstinence is best may leave thinking something else.

“I think because of the media, people have gotten kind of a blas