Have you been tested?
Have you been tested?
While the pandemic may have made phrases like this more commonplace, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and testing are often still uncomfortable topics for many young people. However, as students are getting back to larger social settings and meeting new people, local healthcare professionals say sexual health should be a top priority.
“What we’re always wanting to do is encourage people to be tested and to stay on top of their sexual health practices,” said Jennifer Gibson, the coordinator of community education at Island Sexual Health. “And that’s especially true for people in university because we know when people are coming to university, they’re often exploring themselves in terms of their sexuality and relationships.”
STIs are passed between sexual partners engaging in unprotected sex, and some are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. STI prevention methods can include safer sex practices such as barrier methods like condoms and oral dams. Other methods can be talking to sexual partners about their status and routinely getting tested for STIs.
One of the common misconceptions about STIs is that no symptoms means a person is completely sexually healthy. According to Gibson, this is not accurate when it comes to sexual health.
“The nickname for syphilis, of course, is the great imitator because those symptoms can imitate other issues and people may not connect them together with a sexually transmitted infection,” said Gibson. “One of the things that we’re encouraging people to do is to be tested and to not wait for things like symptoms.”
While some STIs, such as chlamydia, can be cured with medication, others can only be treated. It is important for sexually active individuals to get routinely tested, especially if they are introducing multiple new partners. Gibson says that how often a person gets tested can depend on their comfort level and what kind of relationships they are involved in. With multiple new sexual partners, Gibson suggests getting an STI test every three months.
“When it comes to sexual health, part of maintenance and making sure this is a positive experience for people is making sure that they are as healthy as they feel,” said Gibson.
For students at UVic, inclusive sexual health information and services can be found through the Student Wellness Centre located on campus in the Health and Wellness Building. The Centre provides STI testing, prevention, and treatment information, as well as relationship counselling, safer sex supplies, and much more. All students enrolled in a UVic program are able to access these services.
“For students who are potentially feeling nervous about reaching out, remember that we are here to help, not to judge,” wrote the Centre’s Acting Nurse Manager Annie Lucas (RN) in an email to the Martlet.
The Student Wellness Centre offers wellness consultations for those unsure of what kind of appointment they need. This appointment would be with a nurse or counsellor who would work through the patient’s needs and connect them with the proper services.
There are also sexual health services and resources available within the Greater Victoria community. Through Island Sexual Health, students can book routine STI testing online, meaning testing for persons with no symptoms, and can call to book appointments for possible STI symptoms and treatment.
Folks can now also get tested online through a service created by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) called Get Checked Online. Individuals simply need to create an account, provide samples (blood or urine) to a nearby participating lab in Victoria, and will receive their results online within two weeks. Individuals do not need to show ID or have a BC care card in order to use this service. This is an accessible option suited for students with busy lifestyles who might not have the time to book into a clinic.
There are also many educational resources through the BCCDC’s Smart Sex Resource. For instance, a person can find information on what the possibility is for contracting or transmitting an STI through different sexual acts with or without barrier methods. There are also resources for instigating dialogues about sex with partners and disclosing STI status.
When asked about STI stigma and how to overcome it, Gibson said that sex-positive education and conversations can help people view sexual health as a normal part of our overall health.
“If we look at the commonality of [STIs], most people are going to have one or know someone with one,” said Gibson. “We really want to break away from this idea that if someone tests positive for an infection that they’ve done something wrong. They haven’t done anything wrong at all.”
Lucas agrees, writing, “Not only is [sexual health] closely tied to individuals’ emotional, physical and mental well-being; but also to the overall health of communities. A community that has a positive view on sexual health is likely one that is free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”
So, have you been tested?