Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Sex, STDs, and college students:

Posted on April 09, 2001 in News
By Kristie Green

One in five people in the United States has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Two-thirds of these STDs occur in people 25 years old or younger, with one in four new infections occurring in teenagers. Yet, in spite of the hard facts and all of the mainstream information about testing and protection, only one-third of college students nationwide regularly use condoms during intercourse.

April is National STD Awareness Month, a concept conceived by the American Social Health Association in an attempt to spread information about STDs to the general public-especially to college students, who are statistically at the greatest risk.

“We recommend safe sex-condoms, condoms, condoms,” said Janice Locke, a graduate student in nursing currently working for Planned Parenthood of Greater Portland. Planned Parenthood offers counseling on sexual issues as well as testing for STDs, as do the University Health Services offices on both the Portland and Gorham campuses. All visits are confidential.

One of the problems with spreading awareness about STDs is that few people in the general public seem to know what’s really out there. Everyone has heard the worst, but it’s easy in a small city like Portland to assume that you’re relatively safe.

This is an especially dangerous form of ignorance. One in five Americans has genital herpes, but only 10 percent of those infected are aware that they are carrying the disease. Herpes causes recurrent skin lesions in the genital area. Human papillomavirus, known as HPV or genital warts, is present in 25 to 40 percent of college women, and may cause wart-like growths or abnormal cell growth resulting in some cases in cervical cancer. Both herpes and HPV can be spread while using a condom, from contact with the area around the genitals.

“Herpes and HPV are harder because there’s no comprehensive test available,” said Locke. “If someone thinks they’ve been exposed, they have to wait for a breakout [of symptoms] to be sure that they’re carrying.”

Chlamydia is also common among student populations, affecting about 3 percent of students nationwide annually, however it is a bacterial infection that can be tested for and treated. Carriers may be symptomless.

“We recommend that everyone gets tested every time they have a new partner, or their partner has a new partner,” said Locke.

Students at USM are doing something about STDs, however. Eighty percent of students surveyed on campus said that they do use condoms regularly, and 90 percent acknowledged that STDs are a problem in the area.

“I know about herpes because a lot of my friends have it,” said Shawna Lancaster, a freshman elementary education major at the University Maine Machias. “Personally, I don’t have sex.”

University Health Services offers pamphlets and information about STDs and prophylactic use, but Nicola Maxwell, an exchange student from Cork, Ireland, said that she doesn’t see as much advertisement about protection on the USM campus as she did at the universities at home.

“I’ve noticed posters in the bathrooms here,” she said. “But in Ireland it’s like you can’t walk without seeing a poster on protection or clinics or something.”

Abstinence is the only guaranteed protection, though not a historically popular one among college students. The safest route is a combination of information and self-protection.

In honor of safer sex, the Women’s Resource Center is hosting a “Safe Sex Dance” at the Brooks Student Center in Gorham on Thursday, April 19 from 8-12 p.m. There will be a DJ, refreshments, and a bounty of information on consent, communication, and education. The event planners are designing a “consent tent” where interested duos can enjoy the comforts of a make-out space while learning about communication in sexual relationships.

For more information, contact the Women’s Resource Center at 780-4996.