McWilliams: Although curable, it is still important to protect against STIs

Leta McWilliams

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

America’s public sexual education is lacking.

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Teen pregnancy, abortion and HIV transmission are significantly higher in the U.S. than in any other developed country, according to Advocates for Youth. Many learn about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) primarily through pop culture rather than in a classroom setting. But something is wrong with the way STIs are being taught, because according to the CDC, STIs are at a record high, indicating an urgent need for action.

There are some infections that will never go away, like HIV and AIDS, and some that are considered curable, at least for the time being, like chlamydia and gonnorhea. However, many people may believe that because an STI is curable, there’s no need to be worried. However, there are detrimental long-term effects if these curable STIs go untreated. Curable STIs are no laughing matter. Just because it’s curable, doesn’t mean there aren’t lasting effects.

Curable STIs that go untreated can lead to chronic pain, arthritis, infertility in men and women, and potentially dangerous or life-threatening pregnancies like ectopic pregnancies. Getting diagnosed with a curable STI needs to be taken seriously.

Being young and surrounded by pop culture, it’s easy to play off STIs as a joking matter. Shows like “Broad City” normalize getting STIs, normalizing the experience as if it’s part of being a teenager. Movies like “Mean Girls joke about the severity of STIs, showing young adults that getting an STI isn’t as bad as it seems.  Social media has also been shown to host many jokes about the topic, which academics argue is harmful to the cause.

While it’s beneficial that these shows bring awareness to STIs, they perpetuate the idea that getting an STI is just part of becoming an adult. In reality, STIs are easily preventable and should be taken seriously. Treating curable STIs as a joke will only continue to make the problem worse.

Though having sex won’t cause you to get chlamydia and die, as Mean Girls entails, it can cause negative long-term effects. Public health officials are noting with alarm that due to the rise of antibiotic resistance, it is only a matter of time before gonorrhea becomes incurable

On college campuses, it’s important to be aware of the health of the people you’re having sex with. People between the ages of 15 to 24 years old account for 50 percent of STI cases in the U.S. For curable STI cases, such as chlamydia, people between the ages of 15 to 24 years old account for 68 percent of reported cases. We are the ones making up this demographic. We are the ones spreading infections that are preventable. We are not taking STIs seriously, and until we do, people will continue to be subject to these infections. 

This is caused by a lack of education as well as a lack of seriousness in the U.S. For many, sex education is not a part of their curriculum. For the ones that are in sex ed, STIs are rarely touched on.

Coming into Colorado State University, we are given crash courses about many things: alcohol and marijuana education, sexual assault, and how to be safe at parties. We were not given any information explicitly meant to prevent STIs, even though our demographic makes up more than half of STI cases.

It seems our only education of STI awareness is based on pop culture. The sooner people start learning about STIs and taking curable STIs seriously, the sooner the alarming trend identified by the CDC will start to decline. 

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STIs are the most commonly reported diseases in Colorado. Knowingly or unknowingly passing HIV to someone can lead to a felony offense in Colorado. However, that is not the case for curable STIs. While the ethics of criminalizing the spread of STIs are debatable at best, it should be treated with the same sincerity. Though curable STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea aren’t as damaging as infections such as HIV, it’s still important to get treated and tell those who might be infected as well.

It may be uncomfortable talking to your partners about having an STI. However, think of it this way: if you had the flu and someone wanted to borrow your chapstick or drink from your water bottle, would you tell them you’re sick? The same principles apply to STIs; tell them so they aren’t infected as well.

If you want to get tested for an STI in Fort Collins, check out the student health center or find a local clinic in Fort Collins. There are many places around Fort Collins, including the Alpha Center, that provide free STI checks. You can click here for more information about places to get tested.

Leta McWilliams can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LetaMcWilliams