Talking about sexual health with international students
[M]any people find some discomfort in detailing anything to do with their sex lives. Our bodies, sexual health and sex lives are generally seen as private matters.
In many Western countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia, students are brought up to be a little more relaxed about these matters, however in Asia generally the topic is considered much more taboo.
It is of great importance that all students, international or otherwise, sexually active or not, have a rounded understanding of sexual health and how to stay safe.
“In Australia, we take it for granted that most young people receive [sexual health] information,” Alison Coelho, co-manager of Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health said at the inaugural sexuality symposium on Australia’s Gold Coast.
“When young people arrive to do their study, they often haven’t had sexual health education… and depending on where they arrive from, the idea of discussing sexual health is often taboo.”
Coelho told The PIE News all over the world there is a real reluctance to talk about sexual health. Countless international students, therefore, arrive at university unaware.
Coelho detailed how young female students had their first period while abroad for their studies. Many, not understanding what a menstrual cycle was, panicked and rushed themselves to the emergency room.
Cultural differences in attitudes to sexual health have caused dangerous consequences for thousands of international students.
“For a number of years, the rates of new diagnoses of HIV in this population group have represented 50% percent of Australia’s new diagnoses between particular ages,” Coelho told The PIE News.
“That is shocking. These young people are coming to Australia for an education, but they are so vulnerable, do not understand about safe sex, [and] are often told there is no HIV here [so] we don’t use condoms.”
Coelho claimed universities must have “difficult conversations” about sexual health in order to ensure the safety of students.
She explained to The PIE News how international students are nearly twice as likely than the general population to identify as LGBTQ+. She attributes the likelihood of this to numerous students using their experience abroad to explore their sexuality. For many, their university country has a more open and free society which allows for this exploration.
While universities can provide guidance and encourage dialogue into sex education, the problem stems from a lack of proper education in schools.
Coelho also acknowledged students listen to their peers more than educators when it comes to sexual health. Universities, therefore, could do more to ensure the information distributed is accurate. Coelho suggested peer mentor groups, which work with a larger cohort of international students.
“Individuals identify with their peers, hence they’re more successful than professionals in passing on the information. Peers act as a positive role model and can reinforce learning through ongoing support,” she said.
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