Semi-virgins and nymphomaniacs alike, I have a few questions to ask you. Does it burn when you pee? Have you noticed any bumps, growths or abnormal discharge “down there?” Is it ever uncomfortable or painful to have sex? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you know what time it is: time to get checked. In fact, even if you answered no to every single question, it’s time you marched straight to a nearby health center and asked to be tested, stat.
You don’t need to have sexual intercourse to catch a sexually transmitted disease. Let’s talk herpes. If you’ve ever had a cold sore, you should know you have the herpes simplex virus type 1, which is different than the strain that causes herpes in the genitalia, commonly referred to as herpes simplex virus type 2 or genital herpes. HSV-1, or the “oral strain,” is extremely common because it is spread so easily through skin-to-skin contact — most people contract it at a very young age from something as innocent as kissing a family member who has also been exposed. Interestingly enough, by the time a generation turns 60 years old, roughly 60 to 80 percent of individuals will have contracted this strain of the virus, according to a report by The New York Times.
Now, let’s assume you’re part of the majority who has contracted HSV-1. If you were to perform oral sex on your partner without a condom (or even with one), you could potentially give him or her genital herpes. Even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms at the time, such as an actual sore forming, the virus remains in your bodily fluids — in this case, your saliva — and can be transmitted from mouth to genitals and vice versa.
Many people who have contracted an STD experience asymptomatic infections, or no symptoms at all, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. We like to believe, and many of us do, that we would realize immediately if we caught something. Surely we’d be able to see or feel some kind of abnormality, right? Not always. Consequently, this is one of the primary reasons STDs and STIs are so widespread: Oftentimes, there are no visible symptoms to warn an individual that something is wrong. There are no sirens to alert you of a disease or infection, no electric barbed wire underwear to caution you of unsafe territory. The only way to find out is to get tested — consistently.
Without fail, every time I hear those words — get tested — I get a series of vivid flashbacks: gawking at shock-and-awe PowerPoint slides during sex education, listening to my doctor explain the prevalence of condom misuse, reading through pamphlets about sexual diseases at Planned Parenthood. If you think about it, health officials have been drilling the concept of safe sex into our heads since we were preteens, even younger for some. How is it possible that less than half of adults ages 18 to 44 have been tested for an STD / STI at some point in their lives? Might this help explain why most sexually active Americans will contract an STD or STI by the time they turn 25 years old?
This disturbing reality can be attributed to a variety of key sources: misinformed parents and friends, ineffectiveness of sex education classes or perhaps the glorification of promiscuity and steamy one-night stands in the media. Another noteworthy factor is that residents of low-income communities simply may not have access to the same quality health information and resources as others.
With that being said, it is imperative to know San Diego State’s Student Health Services offers a wide range of invaluable sexual health services, such as STD / STI testing, birth control and pregnancy testing at little to no cost — and without any judgment. For students who are financially strapped, I would highly recommend signing up for Family PACT, which is a statewide program offered at SDSU that provides free family planning services to low-income individuals. Currently, “less than half of sexually active young women are screened annually as recommended,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My point is that if these resources are available to you right here on campus, why wouldn’t you take advantage of them?
If you are sexually active in any way, the absence of any visible symptoms should not determine whether or not you get tested. Being a participant of vaginal, anal or oral sex automatically makes you a candidate —and the sooner you realize that, the better. To locate a health center near you, visit FindSTDTest.org.
—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism junior.