BY PRESTON BURROWS
“People have sex in college. It’s just normal behavior. Human beings were made to have sex,”
Traci Ditter said, reassuring those who might be afraid to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases/infections.
Ditter works as a registered nurse at Fort Hays State University’s Health and Wellness, which is offering free STI testing for students throughout April. Many health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Sexual Health Association set a week of or all of April for STD/STI awareness.
STDs and STIs can contain some differences, but according to the CDC, these terms are interchangeable. ASHA even suggests that “STI” be more commonly used to prevent confusion by using the word “disease” as it suggests that these infections will have noticeable signs or symptoms.
As part of their tests, Health and Wellness Services test for gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV and syphilis. Gonorrhea and chlamydia tests only require a urine sample, with results returning 24 to 48 hours. The HIV and syphilis tests are more extensive, requiring blood work with results returning up to three days.
Ditter said it is important to get tested and not wait, as the longer an STI or STD goes untreated the more likely for complications. The chance of sterility in men and women and other major health problems if these infections are not caught in time were also mentioned for another reason to get the free testing done.
“A lot of these diseases are silent in your body, and you can have it and not know it, and the longer that it is in your body, the more damage it can do,” Ditter said.
Ditter and her colleague Amanda McCord, RN of the Health and Wellness Service, pointed toward a stigma around getting tested for STIs and hope they won’t prevent students from coming in and getting tested.
“I know that there are people who don’t want to come in because they think we will send it to their parent’s insurance or that somehow their parents will find out that they were in for testing,” McCord said. “And maybe they just don’t want their parents to know they were sexually active at all, and when we offer the free testing, we eliminate that barrier.”
In addition to free testing, Health and Wellness Services also offers other preventive measures against STDs and STI as well as contraceptives. McCord said they offer free male and female condoms and also have Plan B, which can be purchased. Birth control is also offered; however, students must have an insurance provider.
Ditter added the importance of STI testing increases when individuals are sexually active with multiple partners and are not using contraceptives.
“Getting checked if you are sexually active so that you are not carrying something you don’t know you have and potentially causing harm to your body or passing it along to someone else, unintentionally,” McCord added.
In the past, the Health and Wellness Services made sure to visit FHSU classrooms to educate students about sexual health. However, COVID-19 has prevented the RN team from giving lectures to students about topics like these, but they hope to get back to doing more sex education in the future.
Health and Wellness Services is also running a contest to raise STI awareness where students can guess how many condoms were used to make a dress being displayed in the Health and Wellness office. The winner will receive a $50 gift card to the FHSU Bookstore.
This year’s dress is designed with the colors of the Kansas City Chiefs and has a condom number 15 on the front – the same number as Patrick Mahomes. The contest ends tomorrow.
Ditter and McCord encouraged students to come in with any questions and know that there are people who will talk to them without judgment.
“People come in here, and they are terrified, and then by the time they leave, they are just like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t so bad,’” Ditter said.
The free STI tests will continue throughout April and then be available every Wednesday for the rest of the year.