STD rates high near campus

Young people neglect STD precautions

Wally Paynter said if someone thinks talking about sexual history is too awkward, they probably shouldn’t be having sex.

“It’s just part of the conversation before you get sexually active,” the president of the Tri-State Alliance said. “People need to slow down a little bit and know who their partner is.”

The Center for Disease Controland prevention reported the first increase in sexually-transmitted diseases in the U.S. since 2006 in November. The report states people age 15-24 are at the highest risk.

The Tri-State Alliance does HIV prevention work and distributes condoms, sometimes specifically to college students.

“A lot of people assume they’re STD free,” he said. “You have to have a discussion and ask, ‘Are you tested? Are you on birth control? Should we double down and use both condoms and birth control?’ Hopefully people are taking precautions.”

Matthew Zielske of The AIDS Resource Group of Evansville said Vanderburgh County has one of the highest rates of STDs in Indiana.

“In 2013, we had 918 cases of chlamydia,” the HIV testing counselor said. “There were only three counties in the state with higher rates than that.”

He said high STD rates for 18-24 year olds in a zip code area near USI do not necessarily mean students are completely responsible. However, Zielske said the tendency for those rates to be high near colleges is worth noting.

“(The ARG) does a lot of outreach in terms of handing out condoms and offering free HIV testing,” he said. “We do provide that outreach on campus.”

He said his group visits the university once a month and offers HIV testing. The ARG is also present for the university’s annual Wellness Fair.

The most frequent issues with students, Zielske said, is them not knowing their partners’ histories, not using protection and not being tested.

“Even if you know the history of your partner, if neither has been tested, it’s possible to not experience symptoms and have an STD,” he said. “People might say, ‘I know my partner really well and we’ve been together six months,’ but they could’ve contracted something from a partner (before).”

Zielske said regular STD testing schedules will look different for each person.

“What we encourage is (to be tested) once a year, or once every time you have a new partner,” he said.

Zielske said people, especially college students, often don’t know how to initiate a conversation with their partner.

“A lot of people are afraid to use condoms because they’re afraid of what their partner’s going to say,” he said. “A lot of what we work on when talking with people is how to navigate these conversations and how to feel comfortable asking.”

Zielske said the ARG tries to be active in STD prevention around Valentine’s Day by handing out condoms and even flowers made of condoms.

“At the end of the day, a lot of STD’s are related to the fact that people don’t use safer sex materials as much as they should and don’t get tested as often as they should,” he said. “It’s not having a conversation.”

Michael Lisac, professor of Design and Innovation at Tongji University and an affiliate member of Boston University, helped create a suite of four apps with a research institute working to “nudge sexual behavior in the right direction.”

The “We-Consent App Suite” consists of the “We-Consent App,” the “What-About-No App,” the “I’ve-Been-Violated App” and the “Party-Pass App.”

The first app serves as a way to vocally record sexual consent and store that agreement to be only available to authorities if an investigation is necessary.

“The person initiating contact should pull out the ‘We Consent’ app,” Lisac said. “It takes all of 18 to 20 seconds.”

The other three apps address the recording of saying “no” to sexual relations, a way for victims to document being violated for the authorities, and an app to remind users to discuss sex before engaging with potential partners at parties.

“When I was (college) age, the condom manufacturers didn’t realize they were difficult to open, so they were difficult to open,” Lisac said. “If (my generation) can survive the three minutes of doing that, this generation should spend the 20 seconds using this app. If it’s a mood killer, you probably shouldn’t be doing it anyway.”

He said the app developers are looking for schools to pilot the app suite and offer the set free for a year.

The total suite will be between $3 and $5 per student, but Lisac said the victim app will always be free.

“The whole point of the apps is to get people to talk to one another,” he said. “You may think you’re communicating, but you may not be. Humans were given the gift of language. You need to talk.”