Health Services advocates for student safety during STI Awareness Week

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in the U.S., especially among young people. Despite the education that many students receive during their high school sex education courses, about 46% of new infections occur within the 15-24 age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On top of this, one in five Americans have an STI, a staggering 68 million people. 2019 was a record-breaking year for STI cases, with the numbers only increasing in 2020 for gonorrhea and syphilis. 

STI Awareness Week, observed from April 9-15 this year, is a campaign spearheaded by the CDC to reduce stigma and advocate for STI prevention and treatment. 

“STI Awareness Week serves as a time to educate people, especially young people who are disproportionately impacted by STIs, on how common STIs really are, their signs and symptoms, treatment, and key methods of prevention,” said Megan Johnston, the health educator for the Center for Health and Counseling Services, in an email.

Testing is key to preventing STIs, especially since many infections can be asymptomatic. Kara Maxsimic, the acting associate director for the Center for Health and Counseling Services, recommends that anyone who is sexually active be tested at least once per year. Not only can untreated STIs lead to continued spread to others, but they can also cause health issues, including a negative impact on fertility. 

“Getting tested for STIs is part of preventative care and is a great way to be proactive about your health,” Maxsimic said in an email. 

She shared that chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common STIs that Health Services sees on campus. While the majority of Ramapo College students are sexually active, the Spring 2022 National College Health Assessment reports that less than half use a condom or barrier method during vaginal sex. Even fewer use one for anal or oral sex. 

“Internal and external condoms, known as barrier methods, are highly effective in preventing the spread of STI’s. Hormonal birth control options do not at all protect against STI’s, so condoms are vital in prevention,” Johnston said.

Free condoms and dental dams are available at Ramapo’s Women’s Center & LGBTQ+ Services. Photo courtesy of cottonbro studio, Pexels

A vital fact to consider is that STIs are not only spread through vaginal sex. “The truth is, any place that receives contact with someone else’s genitals can contract an STI,” Maxsimic said. “Some STIs can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact.”

STIs can seem like a daunting and scary subject for most, which may be why there is so much stigma surrounding it. This stigma not only causes people to treat STIs as a taboo subject, but also can lead people with STIs to feel ashamed or unworthy of love.

Both Johnston and Maxsimic hope to see a future where more people acknowledge how common STIs are. The reality is that anyone can contract an STI, regardless of who their sexual partner is or how many they have. Having an STI does not reflect on a person’s character in any way and does not need to have a negative impact on their lives either.

“Whether or not one’s STI can be cured, with treatment, people with an STI live long, healthy lives, have families, and can still have fulfilling sex lives,” Johnston said.

Maxsimic emphasized that people should actually take pride in pursuing STI testing and treatment. “Through routine STI testing and by seeking treatment if symptoms develop, you are acting as a very responsible sexual partner,” she said.

Health Services offers STI testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis, but they can also provide guidance for where to seek other types of testing, if needed. An evaluation by a nurse practitioner is free, but the tests cost a small fee, such as $9.50 for chlamydia and gonorrhea testing. For privacy, testing is not run through insurance. For more information or to book an appointment with Health Services, call 201-684-7536.​​

Featured image courtesy of @CDCSTD, Twitter