Today's college students know more about nutrition, exercise and health--and less about sex--than the students of the 1960s and '70s. That surprising finding comes from Stanford University where a program of sex education is under way using a board game called Sexploration in student residence halls.
Students at highly selective Stanford are above average in knowledge and educational background, but that does not necessarily apply to sex. Alice Supton of Stanford's Residential Education Program said that the Stanford freshmen she observed playing the game were ignorant of the meanings of words relating to reproduction, the names of body parts and about sexually transmitted diseases.
"The stimulation and questioning atmosphere of the late 1960s and early 1970s led to more open discussion about sex then than now," said Douglas Daher, a psychologist who has conducted workshops on reproductive health through Stanford's Counseling and Psychological Services program for students.
Daher, Supton and colleagues at the Cowell Student Health Center at Stanford came up with the idea of a game as a way to reach more students than is possible in counseling or classes. It was developed by two students, Bill Levine and Laura Wedemeyer, who have since graduated.
Sexploration involves moving tokens around a game board that has six category pathways--contraception, drugs and alcohol, pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and relationships. In each area there are game cards for players to answer trivia questions, role play scenarios and discuss value clarification situations.
The game does not teach particular values, Supton said. "Values underlying the game are being thoughtful about your own decisions, taking personal responsibility for your behavior and communicating openly with a partner."
Many young people have trouble envisioning themselves as sexually active adults, Supton said, so they do not make conscious decisions about the circumstances in which they will have sexual relations. For those students, the game offers an opportunity to make decisions in a simulated situation about what they want and gives them some practice in communicating with others on the subject.
The game does not deal only with sex. One role playing situation, for example, has to do with what to do about a roommate who appears anorexic. A game situation that inspired a lengthy discussion among professional counselors who evaluated the game involved a question of what a person should do if he or she sees that a good friend's boyfriend or girlfriend is cheating. Should you tell the friend? Should you tell the cheater? Is it any of your business? "The goal is to open up discussion," Supton said.
Other role-play situations include a sexually active man or woman refusing to use birth control, a women trying to decide whether she should tell her partner she is pregnant and a person trying to decide what to do about a friend who has a sexually transmissible disease but is not telling his or her partners. In order to win the game, each team must role play at least one situation in which players play the part of the opposite sex.
The game does not assume that all students are engaged in sex. "We did not want to create a game that assumed every player was sexually active," Daher said. The game was also designed to be fun and include humor as a way of relieving anxiety about the subjects.
The game has just been produced for use at Stanford so far--and there is a waiting list of students who want to check it out--but Supton said that the university would welcome interest in manufacturing and marketing it. Student interest will continue, she said, as the nature of the discussion the game stimulates makes it different each time it is played.
The game could be used for high school students, she said, or by counselors working with teen pregnancy or with groups at high risk for sexually transmitted disease. It is explicit, and some groups might find some questions offensive, she said, but people can modify it to suit their needs, she said, or update it when there is new research on such issues as disease. When it was shown to a group of administrators from other colleges, all of them expressed interest in using the game, but some colleges with religious affiliations said they would need to modify some cards including ones that dealt with abortion.