OPINION | Sexual health is not shameful

Phoebe Hurwitz, Views Editor

Even though they are common, negative STI stigmas suggest that sexual health is shameful. (Will Embree)

It should come as no surprise that college students are sexually active. Tulane University students, like their college-age peers, are familiar with campus sex culture. Sex is not a taboo subject at Tulane. 

Sexual health resources are available on Tulane’s website, the university has made an active pledge to prevent sexual violence and Tulane even holds an annual Sex Week to provide the community with information about sexual health. 

The Tulane community does not shy away from discussions of sex, yet we seem often to ignore and stigmatize one of the most common factors of sexual activity: sexually transmitted infections. 

As of 2018, the Centers Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in every five people in the United States has an STI, with nearly half of new cases in 2018 reported among people aged 15 to 24 years old. STIs are extremely common among sexually active people because many of the few preventative measures available are stigmatized, rejected or flawed. 

The CDC suggests the following five measures of STI prevention: the HPV vaccine for children nine to twelve years old, using condoms, reducing your number of sex partners, monogamy and abstinence. 

Considering the high sexual activity on college campuses and among young adults, abstinence may not be the most rational route of prevention for this demographic. Campus hookup culture suggests that monogamy or reducing sexual partners also may not be the preference of Tulane students. There are a variety of reasons reported by the CDC that have caused a steady decrease in condom use among young people. It seems as though all we can rely on are decade-old HPV vaccines — which do not even prevent all forms of HPV

Having less sex may be inconvenient and wearing a condom may not “feel as good,” but for victims of sexual assault, these preventative measures may be entirely inaccessible. Tulane reports high numbers of sexual assault cases, with 41% of undergraduate women reporting experiencing sexual assault, and 18% of undergraduate men.

Many of the preventative measures for STIs imply consensual sexual activity. However, consent is not implicit, and, evidently, it is often ignored.  

The acute emotional trauma of sexual assault coupled with the negative stigma surrounding STIs can make it almost impossible for victims of assault to address potential STIs. In fact, initial examinations of survivors of sexual assault do not always include STI tests, and often those tests are only administered per individual request

Many survivors of sexual assault are further disincentivized from getting STI tested for legal purposes. The use of a survivor’s previous sexual history as evidence in sexual assault cases is limited by law in most states so that victims of sexual assault are not at risk of having their credibility undermined. However, in some cases, previous sexual history may be used. As a result, some survivors and their legal advisors opt out of STI testing. 

Even in legal cases, sexual health and STI testing are ignored for fear that their negative and shameful association might delegitimize the stories of survivors. 

How have STIs become so negatively stigmatized, forcing survivors of sexual assault to choose between their sexual health and their sexual autonomy? Survivors should not have to choose between these rights.

The inability of consensual, adult sex partners to honestly communicate their sexual history and health demonstrates ignorance and a disregard for those who may not have the means or the choice to take preventative measures. 

STIs are common and usually easily treatable. Preventing them is possible, and preventative measures are effective. Yet, once someone contracts an STI, negative stigmas may dissuade them from getting tested and sharing a diagnosis with sexual partners.

Some of the most commonly contracted STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — are simply bacterial infections that are easily curable with antibiotics. In fact, all STIs that are not curable are at least treatable, even HIV

Evidently, STIs are not rare, dangerous, untreatable diseases, so why do we act like they are? It is time that the negative misconceptions around STIs are refuted so that sex can be fun, safe, healthy and certainly not shameful. 

The Hullabaloo puts out on Thursdays, but only if you’ve been tested.