High School College Transition

By Megan Fariel, Senior at Hartford High School and Intern at WISE

As a high school senior, I have been thinking a lot about the transition from high school to college. It’s a huge transition, really. A switch from dependence to independence, from childhood to adulthood, and so on. However, one change not talked about very often is the transition to a new environment where sex is treated very differently.

In high school, there aren’t really forums to discuss sex and sexual violence other than health class. This gives the impression that sex is not something high schoolers should be doing, but suddenly, in college, conversations about sex are much more frequent, and people may feel like something is wrong if they haven’t had sex yet. That is a big and confusing transition.

This difference struck me as I took the Dartmouth class Sex, Gender, and Society this fall. It could be time-warp-ish at times: one hour I was in band and the bell rang to go to lunch and the next I was on the Dartmouth campus, talking about race and sex and how everything is connected. It was strange because in high school, sex is really taboo. This makes sense, in a way: high school students range in age from 14 to 18, and there is a big difference between the two. (Although, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2013, 21% of Vermont high school freshmen reported ever having intercourse.)

Given, the stark difference I noticed this fall could have been due to the nature of my course, but throughout college campuses nationwide, students stage protests on sexual assault, talk more freely about these topics, have peer education groups, and the like. The way these issues are presented, it would seem that sexual assault suddenly starts happening in college. The truth is, according to RAINN, 44% of sexual assault and rape victims are under 18.

The contrast of high school and college environments is quite obvious if you know to look for it. Take condoms, for example. They are handed out for free and/or sold cheaply around many college campuses. In many high schools, however, condoms are not available. Hanover High School, the high school in the same town as Dartmouth college, recently implemented a student-driven initiative to get condoms in their school– however, access to these materials requires parental consent.

What’s interesting is that many college first-years are the same age as high school seniors, but their environments are so different that discussions just don’t happen in the same way. In order to improve the current status of campus sexual assault, we need to start talking about consent and related topics sooner, because education reduces violence. As the National Sexual Violence Resource Center says,

“An understanding of healthy sexuality can help prevent sexual violence by addressing gender norms and inequality, promoting healthy relationships, encouraging an understanding of boundaries and consent, and helping young people feel empowered to ask questions and seek support when they need it.”

This topics are so important to know, especially when transitioning to a new environment with a lot more freedom. In my school district, we have 8th grade and 9th grade health classes, and that makes adjusting to high school a little bit easier. However, I don’t think sexuality education should be finished in 9th grade, and I don’t think this education needs to be confined to one classroom. Let’s open up the discussion about sex and sexual assault before college- it would prevent violence, encourage safer decisions, and raise young people with healthier outlooks on themselves and their sexuality.

In efforts to open up the discussion at my school, I’m working with WISE to organize a Sexual Health Awareness Week in April, which is also Sexual Violence Awareness Month. Stay tuned!

Other Interesting Resources:

High School Condom Availability

What Is Healthy Sexuality and Consent? (PDF)

Adolescent Sexual Development (PDF)