Spring Break is here and it’s time to party. For many college students, this can mean finding oneself in a stranger's bed having no recollection of the previous night's activities. We laugh about it afterwards, but no one talks about the health implications. According to the CDC, of the 19 million new STI cases each year, people aged 15-24 have about half of them.
For such a pressing issue for college students, many students avoid getting tested, and for those who do see a doctor, the visit can be difficult to navigate. Listening to friends talk about their doctor visits, I believe there are some aspects about this student-doctor relationship that need to be re-considered. The doctor’s visit is an opportunity for students to educate themselves when they are most likely to be attentive, especially for a topic so stigmatized.
First of all, revamp that awkward conversation to address the complexities of the college hookup culture. A common question a doctor may ask is “Why do you suspect you are at risk?” To which I say, why do I need a reason? What if I just want to be cautious? Why do I have to tell them, and what if I don't know?
For many college relationships, the reason for risk be tricky to explain. A friend of mine told me how he took the easy way out of that discussion. He replied to the doctor that he had been in a long-term relationship and that both parties decided it was time to get tested. He neglected to mention that he and his girlfriend had just had a period of “open relationship” where they could have sex with other people. That, besides his girlfriend, he had recently had drunken sex with a girl he didn’t know well besides her reputation for sleeping around. Why bother telling the doctor all of that?
Many times, no advice follows the questions, just notes on a clipboard. But college students may need a bit of guidance. Doctors have asked "which STIs do you want to test for?" However, many don't know. Are we supposed to guess? One peer of mine, we’ll call her Sarah, explained to me how she went to Student Health telling her doctor she had crabs. The doctor promptly told her that it was clear she did not have crabs, but that they would test her for other, less visible STIs. After examining her, the doctor told Sarah that she might have herpes, and let her go, explaining to wait back for results. Somehow, between the doctor’s explanation and Sarah’s own fears, she went home convinced she had herpes. She spent several days adjusting, and even told her “hookup,” a guy she had been sleeping with for two weeks. The guy freaked. Several days later, she found out she was negative. Couldn’t the doctor conversation have been revamped to be a little more constructive?
In sum, college students just want to be clean, and they want to have a lot of random, drunken, questionably unprotected sex while staying that clean. They want their privacy respected, but they are also desperately in need of personalized guidance. The last time we all learned about this was in middle school or high school, and who was even paying attention then? When we’re in the doctor’s office worried about our own health and relationships, it is a great opportunity to learn something, not only for ourselves, but to pass on to friends when they have questions. Colleges keep the issue of STIs far too quiet, but with constructive doctor conversations and better word-of-mouth education, maybe we can all become a little better informed.
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