In order to gain a better idea of what current Clark students feel are the barriers stopping them from getting tested, I conducted an informal survey, and the results are in! Out of the 120+ responses I received, some of the results were expected, while others were a little more jarring. Here’s a break down of some of the stats:
- Although 68% have had unprotected sex (oral, anal, and/or vaginal) in the past year…
- Only 39% have gotten tested for a Sexually Transmitted Infection in the past year.
- A third of the students that DID get tested in the past year went to a family doctor or general practitioner (33%). After an FD or GP, Clark Health Services (31%) and Planned Parenthood (13%) are the second and third most popular.
- When asked why they hadn’t gotten tested, a third of students answered that they hadn’t gotten tested because they had no symptoms (34%).
- When asked where they go to find information about sexual health and getting tested, 33% answered that they go online. After going online, friends (18%) and a family doctor or general practitioner (14%) were the most popular answers.
Students were also asked to weigh in further on why they hadn’t gotten tested. Some common answers included:
- Not knowing whether insurance would cover it
- Associated costs
- Past experiences of judgement from medical providers
- Not knowing what to get tested for
- Not knowing what options are available for testing
A common theme in the answers was a need or desire for more information about the entire process of getting tested. I hope that by using these responses, as well as answers about what students wish they knew before going to get tested, I can create a step-by-step guide to what getting tested involves from before, to during, and after.
- Going to college involves a lot of change in a young person’s life. It’s a leap into autonomy, often involving students taking more responsibility for their academics, finances, and health. While most students are able and willing to address their general health concerns, there is still one area of their health that many students (and young people in general) fail to address: their sexual and reproductive health.
Since the early 2000s, there has been a massive rift in sexual health education in America’s high schools. For every district that makes progress in creating comprehensive sexual health programs, there is a district that cuts sexual education entirely, creates a culture of shame about sex, or refuses to educate students about basic sexual safety. This gap becomes incredibly apparent in college, when students from across the country (who have received varying levels of sex education) are all put in one place. And while colleges attempt to level the playing field in a wide variety of subjects, sexual health tends not to be one of them. Students are assumed to be adults, and as such are expected to have this information already. The result is a huge gap between the things students are expected to know (by universities, by partners, even by healthcare providers) and what they actually know about their bodies and health.
I have been a peer sex educator with Clark University Choices for three years. In that time, I have heard just about every question, concern, myth, and fear that college students have about their sexual health. Every person’s sex and love life is different, and thus requires different kind of supplies, information, and resources. This is why peer education is so important: peers are a huge source of information about sexual health anyways, and so the more people who have accurate information, the healthier a campus community will be. That is what this project aims to address: in partnership with Choices, I am creating a sexual health resource site for Clark Students that will focus on providing accurate information about reproductive health, STIs and testing, healthy relationships, and consent. Using information and data from Choices encounters, peer educators, and surveys of the student body, I plan to learn more about the sexual health behaviors of Clark students in order to create a public health resource that will improve individual student and overall campus health.
This project is about more than just providing resources. My hope is that this online space will help create a greater campus culture where students feel comfortable acknowledging their sexual health as part of their overall wellness, and not as something shameful that needs to be hidden or not discussed. In a world where we’re so often shamed for their sexual and reproductive health, I want our campus to be a space where students can feel safe being honest with their partners, their doctors, and themselves about who they are and what their sexual health means as part of their lives. One resource website isn’t going to do this alone, but it will provide students with help and information, as well as spark a larger conversation about sexual health as a public health and campus-wide issue. I think that’s a darn good start.