My first sex ed class included raps about the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and graphic images of severe infections. Seriously. A group of high school students strolled into my middle school science class — backwards hats and all — and ~dropped a few rhymes~ about why we should never have sex ever because, to quote Mean Girls, we'd get pregnant and die. Years later, I blew off most of my college orientation (I was sleepy, OK?), so if those guys tackled sexual education from a less hip-hoppy angle or with fewer scare tactics, or explained STD testing on college campuses, I totally missed it.
In other words, the majority of my knowledge about sexual health came from secondhand stories and personal research. And, like many young people, there were significant gaps in my understanding about how and why I needed to take responsibility for my own sexual health.
Like sure, everyone knows that safe sex is important. But did you realize that only 52 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 actually use a condom during sex, according to the American College Health Association? Or that the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia have reached an all-time high, as reported by the Center for Disease Control?
I know. I was shocked, too. But no need to panic, fam!
For starters, many sexually transmitted diseases are easily cured or treated with medication. But you know what's even easier? Preventing the spread of STDs in the first place by using condoms (!!!) and ensuring that you and your sexual partners have all been tested.
Most public universities' health centers will be able to answer students' questions about sexual health, prescribe birth control, and even distribute condoms and dental dams. (Heck, my university had a Condom Fairy who would deliver straight to your dorm room, upon request!) All you've got to do is call your student health office in advance and ask which services they offer.
If, by chance, your university does not offer STD screenings — an especially common dilemma on private or religious college campuses — don't stress. There are healthcare centers across the country that will provide free or low-cost (depending on your insurance policy and income level) STD testing to students.
Seriously, though. There are more than 600 Planned Parenthoods (and Planned Parenthood affiliates) across the US — from rural areas to bustling cities — so the odds that there's at least one location near your college campus are pretty good. Oh, and you can also search for nearby healthcare centers by zip code on websites like STDcheck.com or on the CDC's website! Many will take walk-ins, but if you want to avoid flipping through five-year-old magazines in the waiting room, call to make an appointment about two weeks in advance.
All right, so. Let's say you've taken that first step and scheduled an appointment to get an STD screening, at your university or elsewhere... Now what? What exactly can and should you expect from this appointment?
Good news: There's nothing crazy involved in this step, either. As the Mayo Clinic explains, most STDs can be identified through a simple blood test (which will uncover infections like HIV and Syphilis) and a urine sample (which will uncover Chlamydia and Gonorrhea). No tests can easily detect herpes before you've developed symptoms, but if you've got a sore or ulcer that you're unsure about, make a point to bring show your doctor (they'll likely need to do a swab or scrape test for that one). Ideally, you should be tested immediately after having sex for the first time, and then between sexual partners from that point on.
Women should also aim to get tested for HPV (human papillomavirus) every five years or so with a pap smear, whether or not they've been vaccinated against the infection. Gents are off the hook for this one, as only women's cells will show the abnormality caused by HPV. (But make no mistake: Men can also be carriers. They just can't tell whether or not they're carriers.)
The main takeaway here, guys? STD testing is super accessible, easy, and inexpensive for the majority of American college students. So, there's really no excuse not to get tested, right? Right.
Oh, and to quote Mean Girls one more time, everybody take some rubbers.
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