Local women’s health representatives talk sexual health at SGA-hosted panel

A pack of unopened birth control pills. Photo courtesy of Béria L. Rodríguez.

By Kanika Mehra 

For The Diamondback

A panel of representatives from multiple health organizations spoke at a town hall Monday night, tackling some of the most pervasive myths and stigmas surrounding birth control and other sexual health issues. 

The town hall, which was held in the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, featured representatives from Planned Parenthood, the Pregnancy Aid Center and the University Health Center, with the panelists delving into the different services offered at their organizations to dispel myths and causes of hesitation women may have when visiting a sexual health provider. 

“People will come in and present a lot of misinformation to me,” said Olivia Mays, an assistant for the sexual health program at the health center. “We have to work to unlearn the information they’ve learned, so they feel confident with the birth control they’ve chosen.”

Hosted by the University of Maryland’s Student Government Association’s Health and Wellness Committee in cooperation with several other groups, the panel sought to provide a “source of true and unbiased information for students” about the various options and realities involved with birth control, said Colleen Herrmann, the committee’s deputy director.

“It’s hard to find information that is valid and true,” the junior public policy major said. “Not just, ‘My friend had this crazy thing happen to her.’ There’s definitely a stigma, even on a college campus [when talking] about birth control. But the more we talk about it, the more people will know about it.”

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All four panelists emphasized accessibility by explaining how some of the most common obstacles for women seeking some sort of birth control can be circumvented. 

“Don’t let [parental consent] scare you into going to get what you might need,” said Mary Jelacic, the executive director of the Pregnancy Aid Center in College Park. 

She emphasized health care providers are held to a standard of confidentiality, that, if broken, could jeopardize their licenses.  

Young women not in control of their insurance policies have the option to maintain their privacy by redirecting their explanation of benefits, Mays said. The receipt insurance companies send to patients regarding the services provided can be sent to a different address, as long as the patient is over the age of 18. 

“It gives you a lot more control over your visits, and allows you to use insurance without fear of your parents finding out,” she said.

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The last portion of the night was dedicated to taking audience questions, with one question about communication between partners prompting a discussion about the onus of sexual responsibility in relationships. 

“When you are with someone, it is not one partner’s responsibility over the other [to practice safe sex],” said Parisa Rahbar, a junior community health major and a sexual health peer educator for the health center. 

Communicating about sexual health is challenging, Mays said. But she said it becomes easier to have the discussion with a partner by talking to friends and attending events about sexual health. 

“If you respect yourself, take care of yourself,” Jelacic said. 

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