Between tests and dates, tuition payments and books, college students have enough to worry about. However, there may be one issue that students are not conscious of: their sexual health.
According to a recent study conducted by New York based Alan Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in four sexually active young adults contracts a Sexually Transmitted Disease every year.
“That’s scary,” said freshman theater arts major Jessica Swapp when informed of the startling statistic. “[That is] still a lot.”
Manuel Thahmann, ELS Language Center student from Switzerland agrees.
“I think that’s a problem that needs to be solved,” said Thahmann. “This is a really important issue.”
Cynthia Denne, director of Student Health Services and Services for Students with Disabilities, believes the percentage may be even higher than one in four.
STDs are a growing concern since so many people are infected with these diseases. According to the American Social Health Association, by the age of 25, “One in two sexually active persons will contact an STD.”
“Women are more likely to get STDs because of their anatomy,” Denne said.
Many people will have an STD and never realize it because they do not show any symptoms.
Denne stressed that condoms need to be used every time in order to prevent infection.
“It is not enough to say ‘I use them,’ but use them correctly,” Denne said.
The Health Center provides two areas of free condoms available to any student in need of protection.
“There’s very little reason for anyone to not get any care or be protected,” Denne said. “We also have brochures (that) students can come in and get.”
There are some STDs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea that can be cleared up with antibiotics. For long-term diseases, such as genital herpes and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, better known as AIDS, medications are available to minimize some of the symptoms, although the diseases themselves will never completely disappear.
Although many students are knowledgeable about what diseases they should be wary of, many students may be confused on what to do once they have contracted an STD. Some young people may be too embarrassed to let anyone know when they think they are infected.
“I know a lot of people go to places like Planned Parenthood or more anonymous (institutions),” Swapp said. “Personally, I would look on the Internet and check my symptoms.”
Thahmann has a more direct approach.
“I’d see a doctor for sure,” he said.
Denne suggested that students should make an appointment with their doctor or health professional if they suspect they may have contracted a disease as soon as they notice any symptoms.
Sometimes the Health Center refers students to East Valley Community Health Clinic in Pomona because students feel more comfortable going there.
“They have some great health educators that come out and talk to our students,” Denne said.
Some students are confident in their awareness of the dangers of STDs.
“I think I’m well informed,” Swapp said. “Everyone else should be if they pay attention in class. There’s really not an excuse to not know to be protective of themselves.”
Thahmann believes that college students should inform younger people about STDs in order to prevent infection.
“In Switzerland, we have classes in high school and we get a lot of information there,” Thahmann said.
Young adults need to be aware of the person they are having relations with.
“You’re not only in a relationship with that person, but you’re having a relationship with the other partners they previously had,” Denne said.
When a person is sexually active, it is important that they are open with their partner about their own sexual history and also inquire about their partner’s history, including their number of partners and any disease history.
“I’m pretty sure students are being responsible,” Swapp said.
There is a lot of information available for people who are willing to seek it.
Similar to the health center, the housing department is also doing their job of informing students about the danger of STDs.
“(Resident assistants) do some programming throughout the year and provide information to our residents about sexual issues,” Denne said.
As serious an issue as STDs is there are several young people who do not understand the complications of an STD. Some students are under the impression that such an infection could never endanger them.
“I think people ought to be scared [and have] a healthy regard for what’s out there,” Denne said. “At the same time, it’s not going to stop people from having [sexual] relationships. The message is: protect yourself.”
Services at the Health Center are available to all undergraduate students who have Student Health Insurance.
The Health Center Web site also has links to other sexual health Web sites for students who want additional information on protecting themselves from contracting an STD. For more information visit: www.ulv.edu/healthcenter/.
Alexandra Lozano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.