STDs prevalent among college students
October 18, 2008 1:33 AM
More than 65 million people in the United States are currently living with an incurable sexually transmitted disease. In addition, an estimated 19 million new infections occur each year—almost half of them ages 15 to 24, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ingrid Ochoa, educator at Student Health Services specializing in sexual health, said that students often do not think to come to the health center unless they have visible symptoms, and by that time they’ve had an sexually transmitted disease for a while.
“Know what’s available for you and don’t assume everything is fine even if you don’t have any symptoms,” she said, addressing the student population.
A common misconception students have is they think all STDs are curable, Ochoa added.
According to the National Prevention Education Network, sexually transmitted diseases including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can be treated by antibiotics. STDs caused by viruses are incurable including AIDS, genital herpes and HPV (human papillomavirus),
The NPEN stated: “Human papillomavirus is one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted disease in the world. Experts estimate that as many as 24 million Americans are infected with HPV, and the frequency of infection and disease appears to be increasing.”
Ochoa said that not all STDs are transmitted sexually—some that are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact such as herpes and genital warts.
Before starting a new relationship, Ochoa said one should “be proactive in your sexuality” and get tested. Don’t put it off, she said.
Ochoa cited the college environment as a breeding ground for sexually transmitted diseases—with the use of alcohol, parties, sexual experimentation and a taste of freedom from being away from their parents.
“Know yourself and where you are in the spectrum of risk and know your partner,” Ochoa said.
On Thursdays from 1-4 p.m. the health center offers confidential HIV counseling and testing conducted by certified student peer HIV educators.
If a student wants to get HIV testing they can just walk in, meet with a counselor for 20 minutes and have an oral swab test. The test is sent to a lab and the results are sent back in two weeks.
According to Ochoa, 184 students came in for HIV testing last spring. So far this fall semester there have been 128 students.
“We see about 25 students every Thursday. So we might be looking at another 150 [this semester]," she said.
Ochoa attributes the rise in number of people getting tested to the more visible sign placed outside the health center advertising testing. In past years, testing was less successful because it was held in the morning and there were fewer counselors.
“We want to make sex less taboo by talking about it through workshops. Safer sex shouldn’t be an awkward or uncomfortable topic for students,” Jenni Shiperly, a sexual health PEACH said.
In addition to getting free HIV testing, students can sign up for Family PACT, a form of health insurance for reproductive services. “It is confidential and most students qualify,” Ochoa said.
Students who sign up can get a "goody" bag with lubricant, a female dental dam (a condom for the female) and various condoms. The $111 student health fee paid by all SF State students covers these services.
Family PACT provides free birth control methods, emergency contraception, urine pregnancy test, STD testing and treatment, and annual exams.
Many students said they felt SF State students weren't aware of the services offered at the health center.
“I don’t think a lot of students know about the resources at the health center. Half the people I know don’t know about it and it’s free,” said Juan Sabino, a senior in marketing.
John James Batara, a third-year business major, said that there should be more fairs and more information about sexual health in the quad.
Arj Santos, a freshman, echoed his friend and said people would be more interested if there were more signs and fairs because the quad is where more people "chill at."
“It’s presumed you should know safe sex practices especially with all the incoming students,” SF State student Shareen Singh said.
Singh said there’s only so much the university can do but added that the school does a lot to promote safe sex practices. “It’s the responsibility of the individual to get tested. It’s by choice—the biggest risk is not knowing,” Singh said.
In response to all the sexual health services at the health center, Megan Lauzon, a freshman, said: “It’s beneficial because people will realize that sleeping around is not the best bet.” Lauzon added that "people need to take initiative and be more aware."
EROS—Educational and Referral Organization for Sexuality—located in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, offers counseling and referrals as well as books and DVDs promoting safe sex and even porn.
The organization also “provides campus/students various information about sexuality and safer sex products like condoms, lubricant and also provides latex workshops,” Nataly Gomez, assistant at EROS, said.
EROS hosted a safer sex carnival last week at Jack Adams Hall with food, a live disc jockey, games, raffle prizes and a dildo ring tossing.
The organization also co-sponsored the student created Latex Exhibition last week in which students used condoms to create posters promoting safe sex that were displayed in front of Student Services.
“The main objective was for the students to be comfortable asking for and buying contraceptives,” Pardis Esmaeili, the assistant director of EROS said.
Students can come in to EROS and get three free condoms a day just by signing up. “A majority of students come in for free condoms/lube,” Gomez said.
Gomez said that EROS helps “create awareness about sexuality, safer sex practices and be sex-positive.”
She defined sex-positive as “getting tested, knowing your contraceptives, contraceptives best for you and your partner, communications with them about contraceptives, reducing possibility of getting an STD and pregnancy, respect for each other’s bodies.”
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