Improving the Nation's Sexual Health

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Fall 2015

By Meleah Maynard

When the topic of sex education comes up, it’s usually in the context of teaching adolescents. But the University of Minnesota’s renowned Program in Human Sexuality (PHS) takes the view that sex education is—or ought to be—a lifelong learning process. That’s why, in May, the PHS inaugurated the Joycelyn Elders Chair in Sexual Health Education.

Named for former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, the chair is the nation’s first to focus on sexual education. Sexual health has long been a focus for Elders, who interned in pediatrics at the U in 1960. She teamed up with PHS to raise the $2 million endowment for the chair, which is supported by 300 individuals, 23 organizations, 26 states, and 8 countries. The new chair is part of PHS’s mission to advance comprehensive science-based sexual health education, not just at the University but around the world.

In addition to Elders, three other former surgeons general attended the inauguration event and a symposium on May 14, where they discussed the crisis state of sexual health education in the United States. “I have realized the detriment and destruction that can be caused from a lack of sexual health,” Elders said. “The most common cause of poverty is children being born to children. Sexuality makes up such a great part of our life, and yet we spend so little time talking about it, teaching about it, and educating our young people about it. We must know that if we want to have a sexually healthy society, it’s about education, education, education.”

Michael Ross has been appointed to the chair. Formerly a behavioral science professor in the Center of Health Promotion and Prevention Research at the University of Texas, Ross will work to create lifelong sexual education curricula, increase the number of health care providers trained in sexual health care, and expand scientific research in sexuality education.


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