According to the CDC, there were about 2.3 new million cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia diagnosed in 2017. This is an increase of 200,000 from 2016. Half of the new cases are being diagnosed in youth and young adults, which makes them most at risk. An even bigger problem is that a majority of them don’t get tested for STDs.
National STD Prevention Conference Scientific Committee Chair Edward Hook said it’s definitely the younger generation that’s most at risk for getting a sexually transmitted infection.
Part of the problem is the lack of education college students have about STDs and safe sex upon leaving high school. Some high schools are letting colleges teach kids about safe sex, but Northwestern has no made changes that would incorporate a safe sex program.
Madison Fiedler graduated from an all-girls middle school in Ashville, N.C. She said the sex education she attained from her school was less than adequate. According to Fiedler, the math teacher brought in organic vegetables from her condoms and was putting condoms on them. She would then ask the kids if they had questions.
The problem, Fiedler said, was that no one knew what kinds of questions to ask.
The National Conference of State Legislatures in 24 states demand that sex education be taught in schools with just 21 one of them adding in that STDs like HIV and others are addressed. Students come to Northwestern from various areas of the world, which means not everybody has been exposed to sex education.
Some students came to school never having had had sex and others don’t know what safe sex is.
Fiedler said when she arrived at Northwestern, she had to catch up on her learning. The university has a Center for Awareness, Response and Education, which offers students a sexual health program and free condoms if asked.
CARE Assistant Director Carrier Wachter said the CARE programs offers sexual health-related information such as the basics of STIs and contraception as well as practicing safe sex. It offers most of what a student should have been taught in school but wasn’t.
CARE develops material for The Student Body, which is dialogue the university has with students about sex during the orientation process.
The program doesn’t have in-depth information about STDs and sexual health but doesn’t go into detail about consent and sex. According to Wachter, they do try to explain what the different consent aspects are when talking about sex in such a short time period.
However, Wachter said, the rising numbers may change how much content is included.
New Student and Family Programs Director Patricia Hilkert said her office, which handles new student orientation, and CARE would have to work in conjunction with one another to alter the content.
Hilkert said if STD rates are on the rise, they’d have to do more research and see how the information could be added to the TND. The current TND focus is about healthy consent and sexuality, which means the script would need some new additions.
Fiedler said adding information about preventing STDs and safe sex would not disrupt the current material in the TND. She said when safe sex is talked about, consent is included in that definition or needs to be included. This means STD prevention, pregnancy and other resources should also be added.
Although this seems like Basic 101 Sex Ed, it’s one topic that bears repeating over and over.
Students don’t just have CARE to help them learn about STD prevention and safe sex. CARE-affiliated group, Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators puts together campus talks about sexual assault and health.
Amy Prochaska is a communication sophomore who is a part of the program’s executive board. She said SHARE is committed to giving students the education they need to stem the rise of STIs. She also said this is done through presentations that note what each infection is, how students are tested, the possible treatments and preventative measures they can take.
Prochaska is also working with the University to offer a free STD testing day with its current programs.
Fiedler said the CARE and SHARE programs help students recognize the need of safe sex, but it’s the University’s fault for not doing a better job of addressing the different resources students can take advantage of. They’re not clear, she said, which makes it hard to know where students can turn if they were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease.
Fiedler said people should know where to go to get help and treatment.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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