Editorial: One test you can’t afford to fail

Editorial Staff

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We’ve all heard the rumors about that girl.  The one who hooks up with college guys, who had sex freshman year, and is carrying one, if not multiple, sexually transmitted infections.  Other girls talk smack about this student, who must have picked up something while hooking up with half of the area code.  Guys spread the word amongst each other to steer clear of her.

Despite what we want to believe, it isn’t just “that girl,” or girls as a whole, that are carrying STIs in our community.  Nationally, one in every four people from ages 15 to 24 have an STI.  In Marin, the rates are lower, with the most common two STIs each one third as prevalent as the national average.

Additionally, while survey results from Redwood showed that very few students reported ever having had an STI, these numbers may not tell the entire truth.  Around three-quarters of those carrying an STI may exhibit no symptoms, and the lack of awareness on the topic often keeps most students from getting checked.  They may have picked up something unknowingly at a party one weekend, and passed it along over the next several months to an array of their peers, never thinking to get tested.

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Illustration by Perry W. Costa

Yet, getting checked for most STIs is as simple as peeing in a cup at a local lab or Planned Parenthood clinic, and filling out some forms.  Many clinics are confidential as well, so parents aren’t involved.

But there is a stigma against STIs.  A stigma against one day becoming the student who has herpes.  Against one day becoming the student who is ostracized from their peers for receiving something surprisingly common.  And so we tell ourselves that it couldn’t have happened to us, that we used protection, or that no one at Redwood actually has STIs.  It is simply too much of a risk to take the chance and find out an uncomfortable truth about oneself, to discover a truth that could save others the pain and embarrassment of experiencing it themselves.

But despite what many students may think, having an STI does not make you a bad, dirty, or promiscuous person.  It is not your fault if a condom fails to work, if your partner is unaware or untruthful about their health, or if you happen to make a mistake one weekend.  While it is not an excuse to be negligent of one’s safety, having an STI does not solely define one’s character.

That being said, STIs are still a big deal, and preventative measures should be taken.  Understand that when you engage in most sexual acts, you are at risk for contracting an STI, and the best ways to prevent them is by asking your partner if they are tested, using protection, or of course, by practicing safer sexual acts.

But if these methods fail, and one does test positive for an STI, it is far from the end of the world.  With the exception of certain STIs such as herpes and HIV, most infections are curable with a simple cycle of antibiotics.  One can take a test, get a prescription, and be cleared up shortly thereafter without anyone having to know.  Even incurable STIs, if caught early, can be treated to prevent worse symptoms such as AIDS.

Simply put, while uncomfortable, it is unfair to put others at risk of receiving an STI that could have been avoided by a trip to the clinic.

Of course, it benefits not just others, but also oneself to get tested.  STIs are a nasty business, and the symptoms are not just painful, but serious as well.  HIV can lead to AIDS.  Syphilis can lead to permanent nerve damage.  Chlamydia can lead to infertility.  The longer you live in denial, the more serious the permanent effects become.

So don’t be afraid to take a chance, and if you think you could have picked up an STI at any point, get tested.  Whether you go with friends or go alone, the important thing is that you go.  It is difficult to accept that you may in fact not be perfect, and that something serious could have come from a casual encounter.  But it is a brave thing to do, and we as a staff commend you.