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Colorado State University has always done an adequate job of having open and honest dialogue about sex. It is worked into the campus culture even preceding day one. For those of us who went through the traditional Ram Welcome experience, we were exposed to the conversation surrounding college sex culture during a presentation about consent put on by The Red Whistle Brigade.
Additionally, every student is required to undergo the Sexual Assault Prevention online module upon their acceptance here.
Practicing safe, consensual sex is emphasized within the CSU community. Most importantly, the concept of consent seems to be the nucleus of the dialogue. However, consent is just one piece of the puzzle of the complicated matrix of practicing safe sex.
“College students’ propensity to not practice all of the activities that are associated with a safe sexual lifestyle is commonplace.”
Getting checked for sexually transmitted diseases before every new sexual partner, using protection like condoms and dental dams and having open and honest communication with sexual partners are all crucial behaviors that should be taught during the discourse of safe sex.
While this information may seem like common knowledge, as I brought up in a previous article regarding college students’ behaviors around sexual practices under the influence, direct dissonance to what we are initially taught is not rare.
College students’ propensity to not practice all of the activities that are associated with a safe sexual lifestyle is commonplace.
We can understand this cognitive dissonance by interpretation of data from a survey I conducted of 482 CSU students who have been or are currently sexually active within the past six months.
The frequency of when sexually active people should be getting tested depends on the number of partners you and your potential partner have had within recent months. Dr. Antonio Pizarro, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist, stated, “If you have a new partner, ideally you both would be tested together ahead of time and have full disclosure.”
However, when asked how frequently within the past six months respondents had been tested for STDs, the survey results are as follows:
-65.2% said zero times
-33.6% said one to three times
-1.2% said four to six times
This isn’t congruent with safe sexual practices given the results of how many partners respondents reported having within the past six months, which was as follows:
-88.8% said one to three sexual partners
-7.7% said four to six sexual partners
-2.1% said seven to nine sexual partners
-1.4% said 10 or more sexual partners
If we were to use Pizarro’s words as a standard for how often people should be getting checked for STDs, a healthy number would have the frequency in testing align with the number of partners.
Since 88.8% of respondents indicated that they had one to three sexual partners within the past six months, behavior aligning with safe sexual practice would then report a similar percentage to the amount of STD tests done. However, the majority of respondents actually said that they haven’t been tested at all.
The full disclosure regarding sexual health between partners Pizarro mentions obviously doesn’t always play out, especially during spontaneous hookups many college students engage with. During such situations, the Centers for Disease Control says taking preventative measures like using condoms or dental dams is effective in reducing the risk of contracting an STD.
Unfortunately, the data from my survey surrounding the use of condoms and dental dams diverge from data that would reflect safe-sex decisions. Below are the results when respondents were asked the frequency they use either condoms or dental dams during sex.
-21.4% said always
-21.8% said almost always
-13.5% said half the time
-15.7% said almost never
-27.6% said never
It is worth noting that 91% of the respondents who said they never used condoms or dental dams also said they had one to three sexual partners, so it is very probable that many of these individuals are in a monogamous relationship, in which the risk of contracting an STD is lower.
Questionably, however, of those who reported having ten or more partners, 57.1% of those respondents said they never used condoms or dental dams.
Ultimately, only 27 of the 482 respondents reported contracting an STD while being sexually active within the CSU community. The majority of those who said they had not ever contracted an STD also reported they haven’t been tested at all for an STD, so it’s likely that the number could actually be higher.
Furthermore, the majority of respondents who reported having had contracted an STD said that they never wore condoms or dental dams, supporting the aforementioned advice by sexual health professionals regarding the use of said preventative measures.
Perhaps trends that point in the direction of college-aged students not practicing safe sex is par for the course, but it is still the responsibility of the University to do its due diligence to ensure that students know the risks of unsafe sexual practices and STDs alike. Just as we emphasize the importance of consent, we should emphasize the importance of STD prevention.
While the discussion of CSU’s responsibility to encourage STD prevention is brought into question, you can stay self-informed in the meantime. Remember that sexual education is crucial for both the good of your health and the health of your partners.
Cat Blouch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BlouchCat.