Be Smart About STI Testing

By Guest Contributor

From the conversations I have had with students on campus, STI testing services seem to be underutilized, underappreciated and misunderstood. After seeing the results of the Student Government Association’s all-campus survey and the shockingly low proportion of the student body that has utilized Parton’s testing services, it is time for Middlebury to have frank conversations about sexual health.

Thinking back on the last four years of conversations I have had about the testing services on campus, the morale to get tested is — to put it lightly — low.

Perhaps testing services were mentioned during your new student orientation. During my first year, the director of health and wellness seemed to focus more attention on the free condoms all around campus than on the sound recommendation that students get tested with every new partner. Given the fact that there hasn’t been a director of health and wellness for the past two years, all sexual health discussions and activities have taken a steep decline — a shame since it doesn’t seem that sex on campus has taken a similar dip.

Perhaps testing services were mentioned in casual conversations with friends about sexual norms and healthy communication in the bedroom. During my sophomore year, a conversation with friends turned to the way that they talk about sexual health before hooking up with a new partner. Their answers varied from consistent communication before any kind of sexual contact to outright lying to a partner about having been tested to avoid further discussion on the subject. The range in responses, coming from a group of people that I knew to be well informed and responsible in their daily lives, was a shocking revelation.

Perhaps testing services were mentioned when a friend had questions about the accessibility of what is offered on campus. During my junior year, more than a few friends who wanted to be tested were turned away from doing so after finding out that, without insurance, they would have to pay a hefty fee for the services. When I went to Parton to be tested, the nurse was kind and thoughtful but failed to mention that I could submit the information to my insurance provider rather than paying out-of-pocket. Given the variety of insurance providers students have, coverage will vary significantly. However, paying out-of-pocket or foregoing being tested are not a student’s only two options.

All of these conversations have left me feeling frustrated with the campus culture around getting tested and the lack of accurate public information available about testing options on campus. Let me take one moment to clarify the latter: STI testing is available at Parton. You may submit your insurance information. If you are under a guardian’s insurance, it is possible that they may see a statement showing you received testing services. If you choose to pay out-of-pocket, tests range greatly in price. If you cannot pay out-of-pocket and cannot submit your insurance information, an open line of communication with the Parton staff is encouraged. They are there to support you in exploring your options.

Fostering an open campus culture about getting tested may take some time. However, it is imperative that we take active steps in this direction. Many campuses do a fantastic job of promoting their testing services and destigmatizing what can be a frightening and vulnerable process for some students. Williams College, for instance, provides chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV testing for students free of charge. Bowdoin and Colby have similar services. Other campuses, like Wesleyan, are beginning strong student campaigns demanding free testing services. There is no reason for Middlebury to lag behind when our peer institutions are leading the charge toward greater equity and accessibility of testing services. However, we must address the complex concerns of sexual health with our friends, peers and the College to make it happen. We must be willing to speak openly and honestly about the barriers to testing services, and we must support all students in this process. If you wish to join a group of dedicated students in this process, please reach out to me at acunniff@middlebury.edu to get involved.

Written by ADDIE CUNNIFF ’13 of Tucson, Ariz.

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