Sexual Health Is Not Shameful • The Tulane Hullabaloo
It should come as no surprise that students are sexually active. Tulane University students, like their college age peers, are familiar with the sexual culture of the campus. Sex is not a taboo subject at Tulane.
Sexual health resources are available on the Tulane website, the university has made active engagement to prevent sexual violence and Tulane even organizes a Sex week provide the community with information on sexual health.
The Tulane community doesn’t shy away from discussions about sex, but we often seem to ignore and stigmatize one of the most common factors in sexual activity: sexually transmitted infections.
In 2018, the Centers Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in five people in the United States has an STI, with almost half of new cases reported in 2018 among people aged 15 to 24. STIs are extremely common in sexually active people, as many of them the few preventive measures available are stigmatized, rejected or flawed.
The CDC suggests the following five STI prevention measures: HPV vaccine for children nine to twelve years old, use condoms, reduce the number of sexual partners, monogamy and abstinence.
Given the high sexual activity on college campuses and among young adults, abstinence may not be the most rational prevention route for this demographic. Connection culture on campus suggests that monogamy or reduction of sexual partners may also not be the preference of Tulane students. There are a variety of reasons reported by the CDC that have resulted in a steady decrease in condom use among young people. It seems all we can count on are ten-year-old HPV vaccines – which does not even prevent all forms of HPV.
Having less sex can be embarrassing and wearing a condom may not “to feel so good” but for victims of sexual assault, these preventive measures may be completely unattainable. Tulane reports high number of sexual assault cases, with 41% of female undergraduates reported being sexually assaulted and 18% of male undergraduates.
Many of the preventive measures against STIs involve consensual sexual activity. However, consent is not implied and obviously is often ignored.
The acute emotional trauma of sexual assault, associated with negative stigma surrounding STIs can make it nearly impossible for assault victims to deal with potential STIs. In fact, the initial examinations of sexual assault survivors do not always include STI tests, and often these tests are only administered upon individual request.
Many survivors of sexual assault are even more discouraged from being tested for legal STIs. Use of a survivor’s sexual history as evidence in sexual assault cases is restricted by law in most states so that victims of sexual assault do not risk losing their credibility. However, in some cases, a sexual history can be used. As a result, some survivors and their legal advisers are opting out of STI testing.
Even in legal matters, sexual health and STI tests are ignored for fear that their negative and shameful association could delegitimize the stories of survivors.
How did STIs become so negatively stigmatized, forcing survivors of sexual assault to choose between their sexual health and sexual autonomy? Survivors should not have to choose between these rights.
The inability of consensual adult sex partners to honestly communicate their sexual history and health demonstrates the ignorance and contempt of those who may not have the means or the choice to take preventative measures.
STIs are common and generally easily treatable. Preventing them is possible and preventive measures are effective. Still, after someone gets an STI, negative stigmas can deter them from getting tested and from sharing a diagnosis with their sexual partners.
Some of the most common STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, are simply bacterial infections that are easily curable with antibiotics. In reality, all STIs that are not curable are at least treatable, even HIV.
Obviously, STIs are not rare, dangerous and incurable diseases, so why do we act the way they are? It’s time for misconceptions about STIs to be dispelled so that sex can be fun, safe, healthy, and certainly not shameful.
The Hullabaloo comes out on Thursdays, but only if you’ve been tested.