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STIs: Mentioning the Unmentionable

At many colleges across America, hookup culture is alive and thriving.  It’s easy to see why: hooking up, be it kissing or playing a heated game of tag means fun and freedom from obligation.  Partners can choose to remain anonymous and never see each other again.  No consequences.  That is, unless one of you contracts an undisclosed STI.


Yes, I mentioned it: STIs, a less-talked-about side of hookup culture.  They’re uncomfortable to talk about, and, as such, go unmentioned, whether in a hookup situation or an exclusive relationship.  According to one study, though, one in two sexually active people will have experienced an STI by age 25[1].  The risk of contracting one is a huge issue for college students.  Failing to ask about or disclose an STI can lead to discomfort or a lifetime disease for you or your partner.  The temporary awkwardness that comes with mentioning this issue is nothing compared to what you may later face.  Obviously, it’s necessary to talk about this issue- but how?

To find out, I talked to Sexual Health Advocate Peer Education (SHAPE) President Hannah Keel and SHAPE Graduate Outreach Coordinator Libby Hicks, whose job it is to educate Mizzou students on sexual health issues including STI prevention.  According to Keel, the most prevalent STI, Human Papilloma Virus (confirmed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention), is difficult to test and can often display no outward symptoms.  While hard to detect, HPV can lead to cervical, oral, and penile cancers, and can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.  Conversely, infections caused by bacteria such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea, can be treated and cured with antibiotics. HIV is another viral STI: in addition to being incurable and a possible precursor to AIDS, it is often hard to detect in its initial stages because the symptoms, if present, mimic the flu[2].  The best way to reduce transmission of these diseases is to engage in an open, honest dialogue with your partner, gain consent and use a barrier method (female condom, male condom, or oral dam).


Talking about STIs is often difficult.  To combat stigma, Keel suggests that individuals “think about [disclosing STIs] to help the other person”, keeping their health in mind.  Focusing on a partner’s health instead of possible stigma can make the discussion much easier. Open and honest dialogue contributes to a healthy relationship with yourself and others. It is important to make sure your partner is ok, whether in a long-term relationship or a hookup. Mac*, a student at Mizzou, believes that “part of a relationship is making sure [your partner] is physically ok”.  Adds Hicks, “if a person judges you for [talking about STIs], is that really a person you want to be sharing yourself with?”  Caring about yourself and your partner is only possible if you bring this issue up.

According to Keel, it takes about two weeks for an STI to show up positive on a test (a period confirmed by safelabcentre.com).  Because of this, she advocates getting tested every six months or before engaging in sexual activities with any new partner.  Places offering STI testing services include the Student Health Center, which offers testing by appointment and the Women’s Center and LGBTQ Center, which offer testing bi-weekly throughout the semester.  Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, Rain of Central Missouri, and the Boone County Health Department offer services in the community.

Talking about STIs is important, no matter how hard it is. According to Mac, “if you love the person… you’re going to have to ask that question”.


*Names have been changed

[1] Cates JR, Herndon NL, Schulz S L, Darroch JE. (2004). Our voices, our lives, our futures: Youth and sexually transmitted diseases. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication.)

[2] “Signs and Symptoms.” U.S. Government, 06/06/2012. Web. 19 Feb 2013. <aids.gov>.

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