Chlamydia in Claremont
This article appeared in the Port Side‘s December 2012 print issue.
According to Health Education Outreach, 57 percent of 5C students are sexually active, which includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Out of those students, 60 percent use a condom or other physical barrier for vaginal sex, 47 percent for anal sex, and only four and a half percent for oral sex.
Five and a half percent of 5C students have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease within the last year. This includes infections ranging from the curable bacterial STDs , such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, to incurable viral infections, such as HPV, genital herpes, hepatitis B or C, and HIV.
While this number is lower than the national aver age (CDC reports nearly half of the 19 million new STDs each year are among young people aged 15–24 years), real figures may be higher than reported since many students do not get tested on a regular basis.
Elizabeth Wilmott, director of HEO, strongly encourages students to get tested within four to six weeks with each new sexual partner. However, many students are unaware of these guidelines or choose not to follow them.
Lucy Blumberg SC ‘15, credits her middle and high school sex education programs for teaching her about the importance of getting tested regularly. Although Blumberg is mindful of these guidelines, she notes that many of her peers do not get tested regularly for various reasons.
“Some are in denial… it’s a really taboo topic, so people don’t really want to admit to an STD when really, they’re fairly common,” said Blumberg.
Blumberg, who gets tested every six months, sees it as a positive experience.
“It was gratifying to know that my safety paid off, and I was doing the right thing by… using contraception. Even though I am sexually active, that doesn’t mean I should go in blindly,” said Blumberg.
Blumberg acknowledges that there could be an element of shame associated with getting tested for an STD, especially for women.
“There’s a huge stigma against women having STDs because socially… they’re looked upon pretty much as the child-bearers. The stigma around women having STDs [is that] they’re sexually promiscuous, they might be involved in some form of prostitution, when re ally, that’s not true. The first person you ever sleep with could give [you] an STD, so that’s a very silly notion,” said Blumberg.
While HEO advertises testing dates and locations with campus wide posters, a large responsibility of promoting awareness falls on the colleges’ residential assistants. RAs receive a thorough presentation of available resources during training and are expected to act a liaison between HEO and their residents.
“I personally have not referred any student to SHS (Student Health Services) for screening, but would feel comfortable doing so. I think that screening is essential and that anything we can do to increase student awareness of the resources and risk factors are important to the overall community as well as to personal health,” said Kelsey Gross ‘13, a CMC RA in Phillips Hall.
In addition to education, RAs are encouraged to take practical steps to promoting safe sexual practices, by providing free condoms and other barrier devices from HEO.
However, unlike the physical devices of contraception, the regular screenings do not come without a cost. A full STD screening at the Upland Planned Parenthood can cost as much as $275 if the patient is uninsured. An individual STD test at SHS is $50 dollars and cannot be billed to insurance.
A student’s desire to get tested often comes in conflict with cost and confidentiality concerns.
“I know that I should be tested because many STDs are asymptomatic. But without billing my parents insurance, I can’t afford a full screening. I know that I might be at risk, but I also can’t have a conversation with my parents about being sexually active,” said a CMC freshman who wished to remain anonymous.
There have also been recent questions about the decision to host HIV-screenings at Pomona’s Queer Resource Center instead of at SHS.
“Having testing at the QRC, I feel, sends the wrong signals to the school. It’s as if they are conceding that HIV is only a disease for homosexuals. Of course most people don’t believe this stereotype, but for people who are self-conscious or who doubt the necessity of getting tested, they might not feel comfortable going to the QRC,” said one CMC junior who completed a HIV screening after studying abroad.
Ultimately, the most important thing about STD testing is to actually do it. Since STDs are often asymptomatic, especially in men, all sexually active individuals should get tested to keep themselves healthy.
“It’s not the biggest deal in the world—it happens, and it’s very common,” said Blumberg.
All students from the 7Cs are welcome and encouraged to talk to a Health Educator if they have any questions or concerns about their sexual activity, safety, or STDs. Con tact HEO at 607-3602 or stop by the office located in Tranquada Student Services Building.