STDs and CUNY Students: A Case for Getting Tested

By: Asia Boodoo

JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, CUNY: The discovery of an STD (sexually transmitted disease) can be a life altering experience for anyone. A John Jay student, who did not want to disclose her name, tested positive for trichomoniasis, a parasitic STD that she received from her partner of six months.

“I received a call early in the morning from my boyfriend. He was really upset and kept telling me he had chlamydia. My heart literally dropped to the ground. I ran to the clinic that same day and it turned out I had trichomoniasis, which is a spinoff of chlamydia. It causes a buildup of bacteria and causes infections. The symptoms come and go so I don’t even know how long I’ve had it. I was tested before we got together. I trusted him when he said he had gotten checked too,” she explained quietly. She chewed nervously at the sleeve of her leather jacket and avoided eye contact.

Her experience is not an isolated incident. STD rates continue to rise at an alarming rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experienced the highest number of reports for STDs in 2014. The CDC concludes that almost half of the 20 million STD cases that are diagnosed each year are amongst people between the ages of 15-24. Left untreated, these STDs can have long-term negative effects on the entire body.

Many college students involve themselves in risky social situations compared to the general population, such as drinking, drug use, partying, hook ups and casual sex. Because students become exposed to such situations, half the STDs diagnosed each year are diagnosed in young adults. Getting tested and using protection are the best ways to avoid unwanted STDs.

“When I think of someone having an STD, I never think it’s someone my age or even close to my age. I just think it happens to people I do not know. I’ve never looked at someone and thought ‘ he might have an STD.’ I would never imagine someone I know having an STD. Nope. I always think it’s someone far away,” said Jeremy Sanchez, a student at City College.

Chlamydia, HPV, and herpes are the most prevalent STDs amongst college students, according to the American Sexual Health Association. Because many of these STDs are dormant when first contracted, students who are infected continue to have unprotected sex because they show no symptoms.

“Some of us [would] rather ‘pull out’ than wear a condom. You can’t ‘pull out’ of a disease, though. It’s really scary that people aren’t being careful,” said Tara Inan, an education major at Queens College.“I use birth control pills, but I honestly forget to take them sometimes. Condoms are really the only thing I use,” Inan added with a chuckle.

The unidentified young woman who had the STD added: “I hate condoms. They suck. They hurt. They make you dry and way less lubricated, to be honest. I thought that because I used birth control, I didn’t need a condom. I never thought I’d receive an STD from the boyfriend I am currently with,” she said as she tossed her long braids over her shoulder.  “ I have sex with him less now because I don’t trust him.”

Malaine Clarke, the director of health services at John Jay, was very straightforward when she spoke about the troubles of young women thinking that using birth control alone was enough of a preventive measure.

“No, no. Definitely not. Do not engage in unprotected sex. Period. Point blank. When it comes down to safe sex, we can’t just think about preventing pregnancy. We need to look at the fact that diseases can alter the course of one’s life. We are looking at diseases that are detrimental not only in terms of  the reproductive system, but of the whole body in the long run. Think about HIV, herpes, and hepatitis B. Don’t look at it as ‘I did not get pregnant.’ Look beyond pregnancy.”

As reported by the CDC, condoms reduce the risk of STD transmissions, as well as protect against pregnancy. Birth control only prevents pregnancy. Both resources are available at John Jay.

Anjelica D’emilio, a senior who works at John Jay’s Women’s Center for Gender Justice, advocated for student choice when it came to sexual health. “ We [the women’s center] don’t put our opinions on the students. We just provide resources in and out of John Jay for things like STI testing and birth control clinics. We let students make decisions for themselves. We give the power to the person who comes in for anything. It is the person’s right to decide what’s best for them.”

The unidentified female student still does not use condoms, even after having the experience. “I still don’t use condoms, but now we both get checked out regularly. We used condoms once, but still don’t like them. I wish birth control worked against STDs too,” she said with a sigh.

“Before you get involved with anyone, make sure you both get tested. Use condoms. Please don’t be like me and not use them. What if he had given me HIV? Condoms are the best way to be protected. I just think everyone is different when it comes to sex. However, there are just some things you cannot get rid of.”

The John Jay Student Health Center (L.66.00) and The Women’s Center for Gender Justice (L.67.00) both provide free condoms, information and sexual health related guidance for anyone on campus who needs advice or free testing.