Late last semester, I went to the on-campus health clinic for a routine woman’s exam. Because of the nature of the appointment, I was asked a variety of questions about my sex life, my views and practices with contraception and general sexual health questions.
After the second or third time that the nurse emphasized the importance of using barrier protection (like condoms) to protect from STDs, my curiosity piqued and I asked if she had specific concerns. She went on to tell me about how common it was for someone to come in after their first sexual encounter and leave with a diagnosis of genital herpes.
However, herpes is not the only thing students should be concerned about. A study conducted by nursingschools.net showed that one in four students has an STD, and an alarming 80 percent don’t have any noticeable signs or symptoms. The most common of these is the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, which is known to increase the risk of cervical cancer in women.
These facts are out there, but many do not take significant notice of the risks. Or they just think nothing like that would ever happen to them. On a college campus, students come from many backgrounds. Some may have learned about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases before entering college, whether it was through their parents or perhaps a program at their high school. Others could have been raised by a family that still claimed babies were delivered by the stork, or attended a school that offered little sex education outside the realm of abstinence.
The fact is that no matter how you were brought up, how much you know about sex, or whether or not you’ve sworn to yourself that you’ll never go out without a condom, you might find yourself in a situation where you are tempted not to use one. Whether you are steady with one person and you just don’t have one, or you are too drunk to think about it when you bring home yet another different person from SoHo, it’s a situation that could come up.
I asked Courtney Casper, a senior majoring in biology, if she thought this was a common situation. “I think in college, it’s the combination of alcohol and sex,” Casper said. “Protection just isn’t a factor that they’re thinking about.” In fact, the same study mentioned earlier by nursingschools.net reported that only about 54 percent of students reported using condoms regularly during vaginal sex (the number was even less for anal and oral sex).
So what are colleges doing to combat this risqué risk to their student body’s health? Sure, they keep free condoms in the health center, but does anyone know what to actually do with them? I spoke to Charlotte Petonic, newly appointed Wellness Coordinator here at UT. Her position includes running various programs, ranging in topic from alcohol and drug use to nutrition and sexual health.
Along with the importance of everyone being responsible for their own health, Petonic emphasized that though not everyone on a college campus is having sex, her goal for the sexual health program is to give students “education on, if and when they choose to decide on partaking in any sexual activity and help them to make the healthiest decision they can.”
We also discussed the importance of shared responsibility between couples for engaging in safe sex activities. While the prevention of pregnancy can fully be taken into the woman’s hands now with multiple forms of female contraception, the use of condoms, which is the most effective way to prevent STD’s, is still largely considered the male’s responsibility. But that shouldn’t necessarily be the case.
“I feel like it’s the mans’ responsibility seeing as condoms protect from STDs, “ said junior public health major Drew Buckley. “And we are the ones with the penises . So we should try and protect ourselves from getting an STD.”
But Buckley also agreed with the idea that safe sex practices in general should be a combined effort, no matter who is providing the means. “Both are in control of what decision they make. Safe sex is their choice.”
Petonic also agrees with the idea of combined effort. “Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own health,” she said when I asked if she thought sexual health education was geared more toward one sex than another. “I don’t think it’s fair to say someone is more responsible when it is two people that are engaging… two people are being sexually active, both need to be equally educated.”