As a part of the Jesuit community, Canisius advocates abstinence as its only form of sex education. There are no Planned Parenthood or safe-sex advocates welcome on campus, and the option of selling condoms at the bookstore has been met with consistent resistance from the administration. Year to year, it is proven that Canisius cares more about its Jesuit values than it does about assisting sexually-active Canisius students in making healthy and safe decisions.
Although, after years of a safe-sex stalemate, things are finally starting to look up. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the Undergraduate Student Association sent an email to students stating that “the Public Health Committee is teaming up with the Health Center to provide two free, confidential STD testing clinics this year.”
The program, which will be run by the Erie County Health Department (not Student Health), will begin on Oct. 19 and students will have the opportunity to be tested again on Feb. 16. Undergraduate Student Association Chair of the Public Health Committee, Dilpreet Kaur, mentioned that Canisius administrators have cancelled similar testing clinics in the past, but that administrators are on board with the re-implementation of STD testing clinics.
For a supposedly progressive college, giving students the access to basic health care shouldn’t be an issue, but instead an inalienable right for all students. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Although we can celebrate the positive changes and advancements the college is making, it would be wrong to leave the situation unassessed. There is a reason that it has taken so long to bring STD testing clinics back on campus and why accurate sex education is such a challenge, not only at Canisius and other Jesuit institutions, but in high schools across the nation as well.
STDs, which are no different from other viral or bacterial infections, are often unnoticeable, relatively harmless, and easily treated with antibiotics. We would never make it difficult for someone to get tested for strep throat or the flu, but being tested for common, contagious diseases and infections that are transmitted sexually is a completely different story.
The only reason that STDs are negatively stigmatized is because sex is stigmatized. We shame people for needing an antibiotic to treat chlamydia, but no one bats an eye when someone needs an antibiotic to treat a respiratory infection. This is because even in a culture of near-ponographic images bombarding advertisements and relationships and sexual innuendos being the basis of dozens of TV shows, people still can’t escape the idea that those who participate in sexual acts are dirty and deserving of their problems.
This dangerous, socially-constructed stigma labels STDs as more disgusting and problematic than any other type of disease. People are ashamed to talk to their doctors or partners about their previous sexual encounters, and going to get tested for STDs is not seen as a responsible decision to ensure one’s health, but a shameful act that suggests you are dirty and promiscuous.
For decades, this has been happening. Even well-educated adults fall victim to believing stereotypes about STDs. The common myths about STDs are that only “slutty” women get STDs, that you can’t get an STD from outercourse, or the ever-popular “it won’t ever happen to me.”
But the truth is that millions of people contract STDs every year, and you can acquire an STD without any penetration. Any skin-to-skin contact creates the potential for bacterial transmission, and this includes not using a condom or dental dam when partaking in oral sex. The Griffin can’t help but make the assumption that most Canisius students are not practicing this level of protection in their sexual encounters. For the students who do not practice safe sex in every sexual encounter that they have, need to have access to confidential and accurate STD testing facilities to ensure that they are all taking optimal care of their bodies.
It’s not scary or shameful to go and get tested for an STD. It’s not even scary or shameful to have an STD. Mistakes happen, and college students are often susceptible to acting in impulse and pleasure. When caught early, most STDs are easily treated and measures can be taken to avoid transmission to other partners. However, when left undiagnosed and therefore untreated, problems arise such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and the infected developing a higher risk for receiving HIV.
Of course, to avoid the complications of needing an STD test at all, one can abstain from all sexual contact or activity. However, we at The Griffin are more realistic than that, and we encourage everyone to participate in safe, consensual sex at their preferred and desired frequency. But with great sex comes great responsibility. Using proper protection and following up with frequent STD tests are the only way to ensure that you are providing your body with the respect and love that it deserves.
We applaud Canisius and USA for giving students the opportunity to take the initiative to take care of themselves and their sexual partners. More importantly, we celebrate the steps towards destigmatizing sex and STDs. If we’re lucky, we will live to see a world where Canisius and the Catholic Church learn to treat sex for what it is: a completely normal and natural act that (almost) all humans participate in.
So, if you’re debating getting tested, or are convinced that even though you’re sexually active there’s “no way” that you have an STD, please just go. Not only is it the mature and responsible decision to make, but it will show Canisius administrators that we appreciate these programs and would like to see more moving forward.
Next step: getting condoms on campus.