Brigham Young University basketball starting player Brandon Davies committed a terrible offense: pre-marital sex with his girlfriend. BYU's honor code forbids students from having premarital sex and instructs them to "live a chaste and virtuous life." This move by the university this highlights the negative attitude towards sexuality harbored by many conservative religious traditions, especially Mormonism. At a university so conservative on their views about sex, I am concerned about the student’s sexual health and safety. Surely at a University that does not “allow” pre-marital sex, students still are in need of sexual health services. Doesn't a university that prides itself on being a moral institution have a moral obligation to the health and well being of its students?
There is the opinion that a Mormon university can do whatever it likes, and it’s none of our business. Davies signed a contract saying he wouldn’t have pre-marital sex, he did, so it would follow that the appropriate response is to kick him off the team. CFS Sports columnist Ray Rattor says,
The honor code might be archaic, but it's archaic to you. It works for other folks. You don't like it, go somewhere else. And so it is Mormonism as well. It might not be your cut of meat, but it doesn't have to be. If you find its capacity for forgiveness to be insufficient for your needs, desires or opinions, then find the church that works for you.
Point well taken. Tolerance, even for things we find archaic and personally distasteful, is still very important. However, I simply can’t get in line with the honor code’s prohibition on sexual activity. Let’s put aside the argument that being “virtuous” by abstaining from sex is an ideological method of control over the others, especially women, and that in fact there is nothing inherently virtuous about abstaining versus being sexually active. Also, let’s set aside BYU’s other crazy honor code rules. It not only prohibits premarital sex but also plagiarism, alcohol, and visiting opposite-sex dorms too late at night as well as "sleeveless, strapless, backless, or revealing" clothing for women; coffee; tea; and beards.
Regardless of all this, while the school has a right to enforce rules that stem from the Mormon tradition, they also have a responsibility to their students. If they are suspending a player for pre-marital sex, it is not a large leap to say that there is a dearth of sexual health services available to students. And this case clearly shows that while the school doesn't want to admit it, even Mormon students are having sex. People of any faith have a right to accesses contraception, confidential testing, and accurate health advice. Slate reports, “A 1954 internal study (cited in a 1985 book about the university) estimated that 14 percent of students had sex before marriage.” However, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number was a lot higher. Plus, sexual assault surely is not unheard of on BYU’s campus.
In Utah, STD rates (particularly for Chlamydia) are painfully high. Sexually active youth in the state face enormous difficulties getting the health information and services they need. Schools are required to stress abstinence in sex ed classes, Utah continues to accept federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, and there are fewer than 20 Title X family planning clinics in the entire state.
Ultimately, this negative attitude towards sexuality –- an external force to be grappled with as opposed to a healthy and natural part of being human—is not good for students. While I respect BYU’s right to create whatever rules they want, I believe that their stance on this issue leads to unhealthy sexual behavior, as well as high unplanned pregnancy rates and STD rates. At a religious university that prides itself on being moral, they have a duty to protect the sexual health of their students.
Dan Jubelirer is a Netroots Youth Fellow at Amplify, a youth-driven community dedicated to promoting sexual health and reproductive justice.