“The tough part is we have to get people in the door,” Coordinator of Wellness Education at the Elliot Center for Health and Wellness, Tiffany Matthews said when asked about KSC students getting tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
In an Equinox article from March 21, 2012, entitled, STD Flare-Up Causes Concern by KSC alumna Julie Conlon, Matthews said the most prevalent Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) among college students was chlamydia.
Today, nearly four years later Matthews said, “Chlamydia is the number one sexually transmitted infection at Keene State, but also among people of the age group [18-24 years old].”
According to Matthews, chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can be treated, and ultimately eliminated with the use of antibiotics and is described as a STI as opposed to an STD. Matthews described the change in terms as a way to “destigmatize” a diagnosis, and that the term STI is a “more realistic way to name the different issues that people could have.”
But Matthews does not only want to destigmatize the infection, she and others hope to destigmatize the testing process. Unfortunately some students who take part in sexually risky behavior do not get tested.
Infection Preventionist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Cheshire Medical Center, Harry Byrne said that in 2014 he reported 120 cases of chlamydia, eight cases of gonorrhea and zero cases of syphilis. In 2015, Byrne reported 84 cases of chlamydia, six cases of gonorrhea and two cases of syphilis. Byrne also added that the majority of the patients who tested positive for these infections were of college student age (18-24 years old).
When asked why he thought these cases were still popping up in his statistics, Byrne said simply that it could be “the resilience of not using a condom.”
Both Matthews and the Lead Health Care Associate for Planned Parenthood in Keene, Rene Giles, said that a lot of students coming into college are not properly educated about safe sex.
Planned Parenthood not only offers birth control options, but also provides immunizations, and testing for STIs, UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) and HIV testing.
“We educate everyone about STIs and birth control on every visit,” Giles said. Giles added that chlamydia was also the most common STI they treat and that there are some misconceptions about STIs related to testing and symptoms. The most common misconception about chlamydia and gonorrhea is that they always show symptoms and can still be contracted with a condom.
Giles said, “Half of men do not have symptoms and three fourths of women also do not have symptoms,” when contracted with chlamydia or gonorrhea.
With both infections having a two week incubation, the only way to find it if you have chlamydia or gonorrhea is to get tested two weeks after having sex.
On the topic of sexual education, Matthews said, “I don’t think we can assume everyone is educated.”
Even though every Keene State College student has likely received sexual education at the high school level, Matthews said, due to certain circumstances it may not have been productive.
“Maybe they went to a religious school, they didn’t talk about sex-ed.,” Matthews said. “But then, even if they went to a public school, they may have talked about it (sexual education), but only to a certain extent.”
Matthews added that she thinks sex is “taboo” to some, and that “they’re really aren’t enough opportunities for people to have a space and the time to discuss topics, especially with people who are knowledgeable.”
For years, Matthews has stood on the front lines encouraging and supporting student who are sexually active to get tested. In 2010, Matthews campaigned to spread awareness about chlamydia testing and how easy it is, as testing for the infection only requires a urine sample. As mentioned in Conlon’s article from 2012, after her campaign more students made strides to get tested, and Mathews said she had seen more students visit the Wellness Center than ever.
Today Matthews continues the fight, educating students about STI’s in sexual health discussion meetings called “Sex Chats and Aphrodisiacs,” which take place every Tuesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in the office of Student Multiculturalism Support. Matthews said the meetings are held, “Just to give a time and space for people to talk.”
The KSC Center for Health and Wellness will be offering free HIV testing on World Aids Day, December 1, and will also offering the same testing at the end of the month. The center also provides anonymous STI screenings daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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