SMITH: Get tested for STIs

It is imperative that sexually active individuals pursue frequent STI testing for their own health, as well as the health of the general community.

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Students can get tested for STIs at the Elson Student Health Center.

Cassandra Plemons | Cavalier Daily

With competition culture on Grounds, there’s a general desire to be always adding accomplishments to your resume. The one thing no one wants to gain, however, is an sexually transmitted infection, or STI. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an STI is rather high — according to American Sexual Health Association, one in two sexually active people will contract an STI before the age of 25. University students need to be more aware of this risk. But even more importantly, students need to understand that sexual responsibility is connected to preserving the University’s “Community of Trust.”

The outlook on sexual health for young adults is stark. While young adults only comprise 25 percent of the sexually active population, the CDC reports that this demographic accounts for 50 percent of all new diagnoses in the United States, equivalent to 20 million new STI cases per year. To expand on this, the same demographic is also less likely to get tested — according to statistics from last year, only 12 percent of people aged 15 to 25 will get tested for new infections. 

The risk of not getting tested comes at cost to everyone. Naturally, if one person is unknowingly infected, she has the risk of spreading that STI to all of her sexual partners. So while the CDC has reported numbers of infections for chlamydia and gonorrhea at one million and 200,000 respectively, it is estimated that the number of total new infections surges well beyond reports. In these estimations, young people carrying chlamydia amounts to around 1.8 million carriers. Gonorrhea, meanwhile, could have as many as 580,000 carriers, almost doubling the reported cases. And for many of these cases, these infections are only becoming harder to treat due to drug resistance. This is why getting tested is crucial — the ability to defend others against infection begins with self-examination. 

However, many don’t get tested for what seems like legitimate reasons — they detect no bodily change or pain. This is especially true for women, in which many STIs present no symptoms. To make matters worse, women are also more at risk of contraction. Men are still at considerable risk for infection, but they are more likely to feel pain or sense genital change. Because of this, they are likelier to seek help. For unsuspecting women, the danger of an untreated STI can be devastating. For many, this infection can progress into permanent damage — Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or PID, creates scar tissue within the uterus, often damaging women’s chances to naturally conceive later in life. Nationally, 24,000 women per year become infertile because of an undiagnosed STI. 

The first question to ask is why our demographic suffers from off the charts infection rates. Some infections can be attributed to obvious factors, such as unprotected sex and increased likelihood of multiple sexual partners. But other barriers for health involve institutional problems, such as insufficient screening from health providers for those who seek help, to lack of health care coverage. Others stem from biology, with younger women’s bodies having a particular susceptibility to disease. Lastly, cultural norms silence young people often afraid to be candid with health providers on their sexual activity. This applies to everyone, but especially those in the queer community, who historically have had their health needs overlooked. 

So what can you do? Get tested. It’s recommended that any sexually active person should get tested at least once annually. Depending on your sexual lifestyle, getting tested every three to six months could be more appropriate. By extension, get tested not only for yourself, but for your current and future partners. The risks might not be clear for your partners if you are ignorant of your STI status. In failing to commit to your own health, you leave gaps of trust for the rest of the community. In this way, the personal needs to be transparent. Anything less is to neglect the responsibility of not only being sexually active, but also your membership in the Community of Trust. 

The University time and time again reminds us that this is a community of trust. It’s time to keep in mind that even in our most intimate moments at this University, our peers deserve to have our trust, free from fear of infection.

Katherine Smith is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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