Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases/infections is easier than ever, but most people under the age of 25 are not taking advantage of its benefits.
In 2016, less than 12 percent of adolescents and young adults were tested for a sexually transmitted infection, but those who were sexually active contributed to over half of all reported STI cases, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
But getting tested doesn’t have to be embarrassing or costly for college students. It’s the right thing to do, not just for a person’s own health, but for their potential sexual partners’ health as well.
Although there isn’t a single reason why people aren’t getting tested, it may be due to the social stigma surrounding STDs, like the assumption that people with STDs are promiscuous or will be infected for the rest of their lives.
It only takes one sexual encounter to obtain an STD and can even happen to people who are in long-term monogamous relationships. The only definitive way for sexually-active people to know if they have an STD is to be tested annually.
In 2017, the Cal State Fullerton student health center reported 81 percent of students who were tested for STDs were also positive for either syphilis, gonorrhea or chlamydia. However, only slightly more than 17 percent of the school’s students were tested.
Common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea often show no symptoms, making it harder for people to know if they have them unless they’re tested annually.
The student wellness center on campus offers free condoms as well as free testing for sexually transmitted infections through Family PACT, a California health benefits program focused on family planning.
On the chance that walking into the Student Wellness center is still nerve-wracking, Planned Parenthood also offers STD testing for free through Family PACT. So for those who live off-campus, it’s relatively easy to book an appointment at a local health center.
Getting an STD test shouldn’t be shameful. Instead, getting regular STD tests should be normalized as part of health culture, similar to an annual health checkup at the doctor.
Of course, getting tested isn’t the only way to prevent spreading STDs. It’s also important to practice safe sex with new partners, whether in a fling or a committed relationship.
Anytime a person has contact with their partners’ body fluids there’s a risk for transferring an STD, so barrier methods like male or female condoms, as well as dental dams, are the best preventative measures, according to Planned Parenthood.
Correct condom usage has also been proven to be effective in limiting the risk of obtaining STDs, although they don’t provide complete protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another preventative action is simply talking to your partner. Although conversations can feel awkward, it’s better to ask if your partner has been tested than to assume your partner is STD free.
Students are particularly at risk because they are often at the stage of life where they are exploring their sexuality. Although it is an influential stage, practicing safe sex and getting tested can save lives and prevent permanent damage.
STDs that are left untreated may lead to an increased risk of obtaining HIV, long-term abdominal pain and infertility, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The plus side of people knowing whether or not they’ve contracted an STD is that most are easily cured with medicine. STDs that aren’t curable often have medications that can reduce symptoms as well as the risk of transferring the disease to another partner.
STDs don’t have to be scary or taboo to talk about. They are a normal part of life and have the potential to affect anyone who is sexually active, which makes it even more important to keep having conversations and destroy the stigma that people with STDs are “dirty.”
Through annual testing, education and safe sex practices, college campuses can prevent the spread of STDs rather than contribute to their ongoing rise.