“If you have sex, you will get pregnant and die.” This quote from the 2004 hit movie “Mean Girls” reigns popular among many from the film that exploited issues high school and college students face.
While the movie exaggerated hot topics, the problems discussed remain prevalent in the lives of many adolescents across the country today. A spring 2009 survey by the College Health Assessment on 1,105 Keene State College students revealed 63 percent of KSC students used a male condom during vaginal intercourse. 53 percent said they used a male condom plus another form of contraception.
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While unplanned pregnancies prove to be a strong incentive for protection, focus has shifted towards not only using contraception as a means of preventing pregnancy, but sexually transmitted diseases too. According to Tiffany Mathews, wellness coordinator for KSC, the most prevalent STD among college students today is chlamydia. MTV’s “Get Yourself Tested” campaign explains chlamydia as a bacterial infection of the genital areas.
In the fall of 2010 Mathews began a campaign to raise awareness about the widespread STD and inform students how easily treatable it is.
“We focused primarily on chlamydia as the numbers have risen throughout the country, specifically among the college age population,” Mathews explained. Mathews said as a result of the campaign, she has seen more students visit the health center for STD testing than ever before. “Students come in to meet with a provider and say they heard about an epidemic of chlamydia on campus,” Mathews said.
“It’s really a countrywide issue for this population.” Mathews diffused the rumor of a campus “epidemic” or “outbreak” and said, “The only reason why we’ve had more positives just in this past fall is because we have more students who are becoming more aware of it.”
Freshman Cara Logerfo said it was not until she began attending KSC that she became informed of safe sex and the spread of STDs. “I’ve learned a lot being a member of PRIDE where we talk about sexual safety,” she explained. Logerfo said she participated in free HIV testing on World Aids Day, another of Mathew’s campaigns to show students how easy testing for an STD can be.
Chris Adamski, bureau chief for the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control for the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services, echoed Mathews and said chlamydia is the most prevalent contagion. “Chlamydia is our most frequently reported infection,” Adamski said.
The Chief shared a 2006-2010 STD/HIV Summary Report on chlamydia conducted by the New Hampshire Department of Health that revealed increasing numbers in the cases of chlamydia.
In the year 2006, 515 chlamydia cases were reported in men, with 1,498 female reported cases. In 2010, the numbers jump to 657 cases in men and 1,827 in women. The race and age group of white 20-24-year-olds remained the leading categories for number of cases reported.
Adamski said, “There is a lot of chlamydia out there—that’s part of why we’ve seen increasing numbers.” KSC sophomore Shelby Hall reacted in surprise to these statistics.
“I had no idea it was that big a deal,” Hall commented, “but maybe that’s because I don’t sleep around.” Hall offered one reason for such high numbers being that students do not think about protection when they’re “in the moment.’” With increasing numbers across New Hampshire and, according to Mathews, within the student body of KSC, Mathews shared that treatment for chlamydia is the easiest of them all.
“The thing is with chlamydia, while it’s the most prevalent, it’s a viral infection, and so what that means a student who tests positive just takes an antibiotic,” Mathews said. “That’s really where our awareness campaign started—it’s really important to get tested since it is so common in the 12-25 age range and it’s easily treatable.” Mathews explained the STD is detectable through a urine sample.
She said chlamydia is asymptomatic and used that fact to stress that students should seriously consider being tested before entering a new sexual relationship.
Adamski emphasized the simple treatment of the STD and urged students to take their health into their own hands. “I think it is important to normalize it,” he said. “Whether it’s an STD or another infection, it’s important to identify that and treat it early,” Adamski said. “While it’s understandable there may be some concern, you have to take the judgment out of it and consider your sexual health as important as the rest of your health.”
“I’m personally surprised that only 53 percent of our students use a male condom plus another method, that really surprises me, and also it surprises me that only 63 percent use the male condom alone.”
Mathews questioned if students are educated about STDs, why do some still not make attempts to protect themselves?
“I’m curious as to why people might choose to avoid using protection,” Mathews continued and said students might be more surprised to learn that according to the 2009 survey, 65 percent of students said they had two or fewer partners in a year, with the majority with one or zero sexual partners in the year. “I don’t know what the reasons are why people won’t protect themselves when it’s free and can cost them a lot down the road,” Mathews said.
Adamski encouraged students to get tested every time they change sexual partners, as Mathews stated.
“If you change partners or have multiple partners it’s important to take that next step because it’s an easy treatment and very effective,” Adamski said. KSC senior Zachary Horowitz said he visited the health center this spring for testing for the first time. “A friend pushed me to do it, but it was more for my own peace of mind,” Horowitz explained.
“If you do have something, it’s better to nip it in the bud and treat it and cure it,” Mathews said. “Then you can live a healthier life.”
Julie Conlon can be contacted at email@example.com