Sex Talks with the Tree: Inspecting Infections

It was freshman year, and I had just started hooking up with a new guy. As things got heated, I began to unbutton his pants. Immediately, I noticed a small red bump…

“So…uh, wassup with that?” I asked, gesturing to the bump in question.

“Oh yeah; I thought you might notice that,” he admitted. “I cut myself shaving.” Really? I really don’t know many men who shave the shaft of their penis. If it really was a shaving accident, perhaps he should have actually focused on the area that usually grows hair.

Even though Stanford often seems like a safe bubble, things like sexually transmitted infections (STIs) still affect the community. According to Stanford University Hospital labs, the three most prevalent STIs on campus are human papillomavirus (better known as genital warts), chlamydia and herpes.

I don’t want to get you so paranoid that you go on a safari expedition of your partner’s genitals every time you hook up, but I hope it will lead you to make safe sex choices on the Farm and after you leave.

Some quick (non-comprehensive) facts about each of the most common STIs:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can affect any mucous membrane. One can contract it through vaginal, anal or oral sex. This infection is known as the “silent” disease as it is often asymptomatic. If left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which can cause infertility.

In addition, being infected with chlamydia increases the chances of contracting HIV. It is important to be tested regularly for chlamydia, especially if you have multiple sexual partners. If treated early, chlamydia can be healed with antibiotics. Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is the most common STI in the United States. About 40 different strands of HPV can infect the genitals, rectum and even the mouth and throat. In many cases, the body is capable of getting rid of the infection on its own, without showing any symptoms. HPV can be contracted through vaginal, anal and oral sex.

In addition, HPV can be passed through mere skin-to-skin contact, which means that fluid transmission is not necessary to spread infection. HPV can remain asymptomatic for a long period of time, but can cause genital warts or cancer in both men and women. Currently, there is no way to test HPV in men, but HPV can be tracked in women through a pelvic exam (pap smear). For sexually active women, it is important to have these exams regularly. To help protect against HPV, both men and women (under 26 years old) can receive a vaccine. This vaccine does not guarantee protection against all strands of HPV, but it helps to prevent the most dangerous ones. There is no current treatment for HPV itself; there is only a treatment available for the diseases (such as cancer and genital warts) that are caused by HPV infection.

Herpes.

There are two herpes viruses, known as herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). Herpes can be passed on through oral, anal and vaginal sex even when no herpes sore is present. Both types can affect the genital area. If someone says they “just have a cold sore,” that is herpes and could possibly be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex. There is no current cure for herpes, but there are many ways to help manage outbreaks and decrease the likelihood of transmission. It is difficult to test for herpes unless a visible sore is present. Thus, most STI tests do not automatically screen for herpes.

Because many of these STIs can be asymptomatic for long periods of time, it is important, if you are sexually active (especially with multiple partners), to be tested regularly and to know the risk factors. Aside from the danger of transferring infections to your partner, STIs left untreated can lead to some very serious outcomes, such as PID, psychological problems, cancer and even death.

So where can you get tested on campus?

Vaden Health Center

Vaden offers free, confidential STI testing for students. If you are getting a comprehensive STI screening, this will usually consist of urinating in a cup and getting your blood drawn. If you need documentation of your results (to show to your partner), this is a good option for you. You can make an appointment online and be out of there in about 30 minutes. They even give you a fun sticker when you get your blood drawn!

HIV*PACT

HIV*PACT is an anonymous testing service, free for Stanford students at Vaden. By law, positive cases of HIV are reported; however, you do not have to include your real name or information. When you make an appointment, just use a false name. This test can either be administered with a blood test or a cheek swab.

STIs can still happen if you are responsible while being sexually active. It is pertinent to help raise awareness about STIs while attempting not to stigmatize infections, as they can happen to anybody of any race, gender, orientation or age. In fact, I would say about 75 percent of the people I know have had at least a cold sore at one point in their life.

Catching an STI may seem like the end of the world, but it does not have to run or ruin your life. Of course, if you have an STI that could be passed on to your partner, it is very important to be honest about it. With the proper precautions, couples have gone their whole lives without transferring infections like herpes.

Don’t worry – your sex and romantic life will not be over. Remember, if you are sexually active, get tested regularly so that you can help prevent or manage an STI as early as possible!

 

For comprehensive information, check out http://www.cdc.gov/STD/, talk to your doctor or make a Vaden appointment, come into the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) or take Educ 193S: Peer Counseling on Comprehensive Sexual Health.