St. George has been called a conservative community, but students and faculty say it may hurt those raised in the community if they never learn how to have conversations about sex.
I-Shan Yang, an assistant psychology professor, currently teaches a human sexuality class. She said being reluctant to talk about sex isn’t just a St. George thing, even though she said it’s definitely a problem here.
“It’s a cultural phenomena everywhere because [sex isn’t] something we encourage [as a society],” Yang said.
Yang said historical events are somewhat to blame for the discomfort associated with discussing sexual topics. Yang said the Greeks, for example, were outspoken. No one had a problem with sex, but sex talk became more taboo in the Middle Ages when religion became a governing force.
Yang said the Middle East is one place where religion strictly dictates what is acceptable for women and men to do.
“Most of the time, religions don’t want you to talk about things like [sex] because it’s considered inappropriate,” Yang said. “Around the world, it becomes more and more uncomfortable to talk about things as religion becomes a bigger deal in peoples’ lives.”
Religion and the generally-conservative nature of St. George plays a role in people not being so open about sex, Yang said.
“Not everyone agrees with having sex before marriage, so [people] just don’t talk about it,” said Jentry Howell, a senior medical radiography major from Springville.
Some students agree that talking about sex can be scary.
“I think people are afraid to talk about it [in St. George],” said Chloe Lichtenberg, a sophomore Spanish major from Hailey, Idaho. “If you’re going to do it, you should be comfortable talking about having sex.”
People don’t talk about sex or practicing safe sex as much as they should, Lichtenberg said.
Howell, among other female students, said she thinks women want to have conversations about sex more often than men. This can make women feel more self-conscious when trying to initiate a conversation.
As an assignment in her classes, Yang instructs her students to conduct a sex history interview. For this assignment, students ask one of their classmates about their personal sexual history, including past and present partners. She said this is a good way to have students talk about sex in a secure environment. Many students find this practice uncomfortable even though it is in an academic environment, she said.
Having a conversation with a potential partner before and after having sex is important, Yang said, even though it may be difficult. Participants need to ask their potential partners if they are equipped to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Other important questions to ask a potential partner is whether or not he or she is comfortable engaging in sexual activity.
Stuart Ernstsen, a junior art major from Salt Lake City, said it is important to be on the same page as your partner.
Ernstsen said checking up on your partner while you are being intimate is important. “Are you OK with this?” and “Are we going too fast?” are questions he asks people he is intimate with.
Ernstsen said he thinks Utah is an interesting place when it comes to sex. He said it is somewhat of a taboo subject because of the conservative population. Yang often finds students who have never talked about sex with their parents and definitely not with their fellow church members.
“[Sex is] irrelevant to Mormons until after they’re married,” said Natalyne Ts, a sophomore dental hygiene major from Anchorage, Alaska.
The law concerning sex education in Utah greatly restricts what teachers can talk about to minors, Yang said. She has to check and get special permission if there is anyone under 18 in her classes.
Ernstsen said the lack of sexual education in Utah makes sex an important thing to talk about. Young people are more likely to be safe if they have talked about sex before.
“[Young people] don’t understand sex, and I think that’s unhealthy,” Ernstsen said. “People definitely should talk about [sex].”
Lichtenberg said when she first had sex with her partner, they had a clear conversation and made sure the other wanted to have sex and they had protection. They even talked about what they were comfortable doing while engaging in sexual activity.
“Some people just go straight to it,” Lichtenberg said. “But not me.”
Ts said sometimes talking about sex can get you worked up for it. She said it can be sexy to talk about what you like and don’t like.
Hanging out with someone can make you feel much more comfortable when talking to them about sex, Howell said.
“When you are in a relationship … it is natural to want to be more intimate,” Yang said. “You should pick a comfortable setting where you and your partner can talk.”
There are educational websites to help anyone start a conversation about sex. Yang said taking a human sexuality class is important in order to educate yourself and get comfortable with the subject.
“Sexuality is a part of psychology,” Yang said.
She also said students shouldn’t feel uncomfortable going to her or other faculty in the psychology department for help or advice.
Students have different ideas about what is important when talking about sex but most agree there should be a conversation. As Yang said, there are many useful avenues to help begin these seemingly uncomfortable conversations and, hopefully, get more comfortable with sex in time.