Survey shows many sexually active UB students don't get STI tested

The Spectrum

Forty two percent of sexually active UB students do not get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to a survey of 1,003 students The Spectrum conducted.

A further breakdown of that percentage shows more than half of sexually active males surveyed - 53 percent - do not get tested, compared to 30 percent of sexually active females who opt out of STI screenings.

The reasoning behind the numbers is multifaceted, according to Susan Snyder, the director of Health Services.

"Everybody is different," Snyder said. "I do think there is a myth that STI testing is painful or intrusive. So, I think individuals choose not to get tested for that reason. The age group we're talking about, developmentally, thinks they're invincible."

Most STI tests are blood or urine tests.

Snyder explained that a lot of students view getting an STI as something that could only happen to someone else. But almost half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections and diseases reported each year are among young people age 15 to 24, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The statistics worry Melissa Han, a first-year nursing major. She doesn't think people are taking the "right precautions" when getting into sexually active relationships.

"Being in nursing, I've realized that women are more concerned about their health and more proactive," Han said, regarding the higher rate of females who get tested than males at UB. "[Women] like to take those measures to make sure they're protecting themselves and the person they're with."

Amanda Kelly, a junior film major, pointed out women might take testing more seriously because some STIs can leave females infertile.

Jane Fischer, who is the director of SBI Health Education - a division of UB's student-owned non-profit Sub Board, Inc. - said some students avoid testing out of "the fear of knowing" and having to face the realities of dealing with an infection. Fischer, too, finds students having a perceived sense of invincibility.

"There may be people who have the misperception of, 'Oh, I know that everybody I've been with is fine,'" Fischer said. "Well, you don't. You never know."

Maddie Schlick, a senior fine arts major who does peer advisement for SBI Health, said a lot of students don't get tested because they don't see physical evidence of an STI.

"Whether bacterial or viral, the most common symptom is not showing any symptoms," she said.

She has had peers approach her, once realizing they have contracted an STI, wondering if they could die.

"Sometimes it can be serious like that, but most often if you catch it early enough, there's not going to be any issues," she said. "You can get treatments - some of them are curable."

But for some students, the anxiety of someone they know - parents or otherwise - finding out they're sexually active scares them out of getting tested.

Students can be screened for STIs at South Campus' Student Health Services in Michael Hall.

For students who don't have any symptoms and don't have health care coverage - or want there to be no record - Health Services has a partnership with the Erie County Health Department to provide affordable STI testing. There's a $10 currier fee that's billed as a "medical treatment fee" directly to students' accounts as well as a $10-20 fee billed directly to the student from Erie County - cost depending on the test(s) needed.

"And it does not hit your insurance and your parents will not be notified," Snyder said.

Students who live away from home and are worried their private insurance company will send results or related materials to their parents can call their provider and change the mailing address with which they're associated, Snyder added. And many insurance companies cover testing in full.

In 2013, Student Health Services submitted 1,355 lab tests for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea and 898 tests for HIV.

The most highly contracted STI on campus - and nationally - is chlamydia, according to Snyder.

Though the Food and Drug Administration recommends condom use to decrease the chances of contraction and spread of STIs, it does state condom use does not guarantee prevention of infections and diseases, emphasizing the importance of testing.

The Spectrum's survey showed that 64 percent of students use a form of contraception when they have sex, 21 percent of students said contraception was not applicable and 15 percent said they do not use any form of it.

UB's 2013 National College Health Assessment, which surveyed 5,281 students, showed that 54.6 percent of students used a form of contraception the last time they had vaginal intercourse. The same assessment stated 65.1 percent of students used condoms - though 26.4 percent relied on the withdrawal or "pull-out" method.

"I used to live with four guys off campus, and one of the things I heard from one of them is that he uses the pull-out method," Schlick said, "To me ... hearing that is kind of shocking. It's a little scary."

Schlick encourages students to be sexually responsible by exploring all birth control options. She is an on-campus advocate for, a comprehensive online resource about all varieties of birth control.

Marc Volpe, a freshman aerospace engineering major, said sex is "so commonplace" that it's "casually done."

"I guess people don't really think about it too much, especially the long-lasting effects it can bring upon somebody," he said.

Amanda Low contributed reporting to this story.