Staying healthy isn’t just clean eating and regular exercise, it also requires knowing one’s own sexually transmitted infection (STI) status. The Division of Student Affairs has spent the past five years promoting public health among students and decreasing the frightening stigmas associated with STIs.
Once a month in the campus center atrium, students can get free, confidential testing for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV, provided by the Bellflower Clinic and the Damien Center. This coming Thursday on Oct. 1, testing is available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Testing occurs during the lunch rush because that’s when the campus center is packed with students. The testing used to be done behind closed doors, but now it’s an open air event to attract more people and reduce the “getting tested makes one dirty” stereotype. More and more people have come for testing every semester since the program began.
“We have thought about trying to do some evening testing, but with this campus, it’s really hard to determine when and where would be most effective,” Emily Werner, Coordinator of Health and Wellness Initiatives, said.
This program is designed to be a quick checkup and to encourage the habit of getting tested regularly. Those who cannot make it on the monthly dates can make appointments at the Bellflower Clinic, which is a part of the Eskenazi hospital complex, or at the Damien Center which is on Arsenal Ave. The campus health clinic also has by appointment STI testing.
“It’s like getting your flu shot,” Werner said. Staying healthy and STI free is not only a matter of personal health, but affects the health of one’s sexual partners and the other partners they may have.
It cannot be overstated that sexually active individuals need to get tested on a regular basis. Most STIs are treatable, if not curable, especially when caught early, and most people don’t show outward symptoms. Those graphic images of mouths and genitals infected with herpes that are shown to schoolchildren as a part of basic sex ed are less common cases.
“We’re trying to encourage an atmosphere of sex-positivity,” Werner said. STIs are a natural consequence of having sex, not a brand of shame or a curse. Even changing a few words can reduce the stigma of having an STI. People are “healthy” when they do not have an STI, not “clean,” as that implies having an STI makes one dirty.
HIV in particular carries the the biggest misconceptions and stigmas. Thanks to modern antiretroviral drugs, HIV is a treatable chronic illness, not the quarantine-inducing death sentence of the last century. Anyone can contract HIV through any kind of sex, not just gay men. Nonprofits like the Damien Center offer support for individuals living with HIV.
A combination of shame and scare tactics not only leaves adults of all ages ignorant of the truths about STIs and testing, but of safe sex and healthy sexual relationships.
“We’re not just promoting testing, we’re promoting further education, further awareness about STIs, about contraception, protection, safer sex tips,” Werner said.