Illustration by Julia Berkman
Western’s Planned Parenthood Generation chapter opened their Sexually Transmitted Infections educational event playing “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent on Tuesday April 2, to kick off STI awareness month.
The group addressed when, where and why students should get tested for STIs. So, don’t lick that lollipop before you know where it’s been.
Sean G. Trafficante, the medical director for Mount Baker Planned Parenthood, answered questions and concerns at the PP Gen. meeting and addressed the stigmas surrounding STIs.
Trafficante said the negative stigma around STIs and STI testing prevents sexually active adults from discussing them with new partners and getting themselves tested. By speaking at the meeting, he wanted to break down some of the negative feelings students may have about STIs and enable them to make safer choices for their sexual health, he said.
One in two adults get an STI by age 25, according to the American Sexual Health Association, and most are unaware so the risk is high for sexually active college students. One focus of the meeting was the importance of getting tested for STIs regularly.
Trafficante recommended people under 25 get tested once a year since many symptoms often don’t show. Trafficante said being tested is the only way to know for sure if someone has an STI, and cannot be treated without testing. He said common infections, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, are curable.
“You don’t need to get tested for everything,” Trafficante said. He told the group that analyzing epidemiology and the type of sexual activity its engaged in helps determine which STIs a person is at risk for. Trafficante said getting tested for what you’re mostly likely to have been exposed to is a more effective way to use testing services.
According to Trafficante, a person who engages in receptive anal sex near a major city would be at higher risk for contracting HIV than someone in a small town engaging in vaginal sex. He said not all exposures are of equivalent risk and not all STIs are equally common.
“Going to get tested can be really daunting,” Haley Cable, a social media manager for Planned Parenthood Generation, said.
She said having Trafficante, an MD, coming to educate the club helped clear away some of the anxiety and fear students might have about getting tested for STIs. Cable said getting tested is an important part of caring for your health.
The club discussed how one of the biggest shortcomings of young adults in caring for their sexual health is not starting a conversation about STIs with their new partners. Trafficante said there is a huge stigma around STIs and people often feel as if they’re implying something negative about their partner if they bring them up. However, he said knowing what you could be exposed to and how recently your partner was last tested can save you a lot of trouble down the road.
Graciela Gomez, another social media manager for the club, said having a clinic MD speak to the club and provide a safe space where members could share their experiences getting tested helps normalize the process.
Both Cable and Gomez wanted students to know that getting tested is not as scary as some might think and it’s a huge way to protect oneself and take responsibility for their sexual health.