Get Yourself Tested
November 30, 2016
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In today’s culture, sex is everywhere. From representations in media to individual sex lives, it becomes increasingly important to be aware of one’s sexual health.
While Tulane offers an array of great sexual health resources, it seems unable to accommodate the growing number of students who seek to take advantage of them. Access to these resources is especially important as one in four college students will contract a sexually transmitted disease or infection, according to the American Sexual Health Association.
For the second year in a row, Tulane ranked 37th on Trojan’s Annual Rankings of Sexual Health Resources at American Colleges and Universities. Tulane must make a greater effort to move up in these rankings and address students’ health needs.
TheWELL, the Student Health Center and Tulane University Peer Health Educators provide invaluable services to the Tulane community. With more than 50 percent of Americans contracting a sexually transmitted disease or infection during their lifetime, sexual health awareness and testing are crucial. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that despite accounting for 25 percent of the sexually active population, people aged 15-24 account for more than half of new STD infections in the U.S.
One popular service offered by theWELL is Get Yourself Tested, a program that provides free testing for STIs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. In that time, students discuss safe sex habits with the TUPHE conducting their test. GYT is an incredibly popular service, with students booking appointments months in advance. Clearly, many students are attempting to be informed about their sexual health, but the university needs to make a concerted effort to accommodate demand, especially as Tulane accepts increasingly larger numbers of students.
Once per semester, students can receive free STI appointments, which are only offered Fridays from 1-4 p.m.
While it must be expanded, this service is vital for several reasons: the testing is free, the infections theWELL tests for can have life-long implications if not properly addressed and the conversations with TUPHEs provide access to resources and information that is crucial for students’ future sexual health.
Other institutions, including Vanderbilt University and Rice University offer testing at reduced costs. The University of Miami, on the other hand, matches its free testing with discounted health care for people assigned female at birth.
At Tulane, free testing is a major incentive. Comparable STI testing costs range from $50-250 without insurance. For such a crucial service, this cost can be hard to manage as a student, so this access is invaluable.
In terms of the STIs tested for, timely awareness and treatment are key. STI symptoms can be easy to miss. Chlamydia and gonorrhea may not present symptoms at all, but if they go untreated, they can have serious lifelong consequences, including infertility and sterility.
GYT also tests for HIV, which destroys the immune system, making the infected person more susceptible to further infections and infection-related cancers. HIV is not curable, but if it goes untreated, it can progress to AIDS, a more severe and deadly form of the virus.
TUPHEs find that ingrained behaviors that stem from poor sex education come up often in conversations during GYT sessions.
“We have a discussion about risk reduction strategies, and we see where [patients] are with their level of protection, just what they’re doing,” TUPHE Libby Aldridge said. She notes that changing behaviors is difficult, but that education is an important step.
In a December 2015 report, the CDC found that half of high schools and one-fifth of middle schools meet CDC recommendations for sex education.
Many schools teach abstinence-only education. The CDC found that the area where schools fail the most is teaching students how to access and use condoms, which are one of the most effective means of preventing STIs. Meanwhile, only 12 states require any mention of sexual orientation, and no states require discussion of gender identity, which may influence the fact that people identifying as LGBTQ+ are more likely to become infected with an STD or STI.
Along with varying levels of access to sex education, Aldridge also cites alcohol as a factor in decision-making. Many studies have found correlations between alcohol use and unsafe sex, but providing more access to education can dampen these effects.
Aldridge recommends that students get tested every three to six months, as well as after possible exposures to STIs or after engaging with a new sexual partner.
While it may be too late for this semester, come January, The Hullabaloo urges people who have been sexually active to make an appointment to get tested.