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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sexcapades: Students must be more aware of STDs

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: Opinions

There was free HIV testing at the International Cultural Center Monday, did you know that? The amount of advertising was negligible at best. On a college campus, testing should not only be well advertised, but should also encompass all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), not just HIV.

Though the Brandeis Health Center does provide STD/STI testing to all students, the test comes with a price. Students wanting to ensure their safety have to fork over $200 unless their insurance company will cover the costs and they don’t mind their parents finding out.

The cost of testing often makes students put off testing indefinitely until they can find the money or have time and transportation to go to Planned Parenthood or Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where testing is low-cost or free. The tests at those facilities often cover more STDs than those at Brandeis and come with the option of anonymity.

Clubs like Student Sexuality Information Services (SSIS) and the Pre-Health Society should team up with the Health Center, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, or Planned Parenthood to provide free STD testing for students once a semester. Once a semester may not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

As for advertising, Brandeis should follow the example of Yale University, which runs a campaign to de-stigmatize STD testing. In preparation for “Sex Week,” students from all facets of the university get together to get tested and have their photos taken holding signs that say, “I did it,” or “I got tested.”

These students are football players, sorority girls, mathletes and debate team members, thespians, lesbians, legacies and first-time college students. There is a week when free STD testing is conducted by their health center, and this advertising campaign both raises awareness and reduces stigmatization about STD testing. Nowhere is this more necessary than on college campuses.

I don’t mean to undervalue the HIV testing happening at Brandeis. It’s great. But it is also not enough. I understand testing is very expensive, but with awareness and fundraising, it is not unfeasible. And if it were to be a joint project between a number of student groups, and some Massachusetts health organizations, the costs could be ameliorated.

I’ve talked about it before, but as college students, we are more likely than any other population group in the country to contract STDs. Many of these STDs are not HIV, but are still enough to damage your reputation, reproductive organs and future if not identified early. Because of this, it is important that testing become something students get used to, like going to class or taking exams. Ideally, you should never sleep with anyone who has not been tested.

Additionally, SSIS, and other student organizations, should do more to educate about STDs. We all know the only safe sex is abstinence, and that the best protection is barrier methods, but intercourse is not the only way to contract an STD. No one wants to give (or receive) oral sex with a condom, but in truth, we all should until we’re sure of the status of our partner. And gloves might seem strange, but there’s a reason they appear in your mailbox when SSIS hands things out.

Even when we are educated about methods, it’s hard to carry them out. I know that a lot of times I don’t think about STDs because in truth, I don’t even know what a lot of them would look or be like, even if I did have one. Gonorrhea and chlamydia? Who knows what they are? Is Syphilis still around?

All I know is that the only way we can be sure we’re safe is if every student thinks of testing as an ordinary, expected thing to do, rather than something to be embarrassed about.