Do the caring, responsible thing; get tested for STIs

LAURIE JEAN SMITH-NELSON| Clinical associate professor of psychology

Sex is something most college students think about and talk about. Listening to snippets of conversations as I walk around campus, it is clear that talking about sex isn’t reserved for the academic confines of “Dirty 230.”

Some aspects of sexuality and relationships seem easier to talk about than others. Talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may not be comfortable, but it is vital to most people’s health and relationship success.

The reality is that the majority of college students engage in sexual relationships with partners they don’t know well. In those situations, conversations about potential risks are unlikely.

What are the risks? In addition to unplanned pregnancy for heterosexual couples engaging in vaginal intercourse, the risk of acquiring an STI increases with high-risk behaviors.

High-risk behaviors include engaging in sexual behaviors without a condom or dental dam; engaging in sexual behaviors with multiple partners; engaging in sexual behaviors with a partner who has multiple sexual partners; and engaging in sexual activity with a partner with an unknown STI history.

Does the list of high-risk behaviors sound like a typical Friday or Saturday night on most college campuses?

That’s probably because current research indicates that between half and two-thirds of college students engage in “hooking up.” Most of those people also have long-term committed relationships at some time.

Since high-risk behavior is common, being tested for STIs is important regardless of whether you engage in hooking up or are in a long-term relationship.

Sex is a meaningful and important part of most adult romantic relationships. Good sexual experiences enhance a relationship just as stressful sexual issues can burden a relationship.

Good communication skills help to establish healthy habits in a relationship and provide a protective factor when conflicts inevitably arise.

Finding out that you or your partner has a sexually transmitted infection is a crisis for most people.

Protecting a relationship from that stress is an important and loving thing for you to do for yourself and your partner.

The beginning of a relationship is an excellent opportunity to establish shared healthy habits. The ability to talk about sensitive topics openly is a good sign that both partners are ready to invest in the relationship.

An important conversation to have before starting a sexual relationship is health status and test results for STIs.

While some people believe that broaching such a delicate subject is tantamount to telling a potential new partner that you don’t trust them, I believe quite the opposite.

Someone who can initiate an important, but uncomfortable, conversation is demonstrating confidence in themselves and the other person.

Saying “let’s talk about being tested before we have a sexual relationship” communicates caring and commitment to your own health and the health of a new partner.

Many sexually transmitted infections can impact fertility. Despite the fact that the majority of college students are trying to avoid pregnancy, a candid conversation about STIs and testing demonstrates concern for a partner’s future reproductive health.

People often believe they would know if they or a partner had a sexually transmitted infection; however, many sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic.

This means that the person is infected, and can infect partners, but isn’t showing any symptoms.

Testing is the only way to know your sexual health status and the sexual health status of your partners.

Regardless of whether you talk about being tested for STIs before you have a sexual relationship with someone or you think about it after a hook-up, there are several options for confidential testing in Pullman.

Health and Wellness services on campus, Whitman County Health Department and Planned Parenthood all offer STI testing and counseling.

If you are mature enough to make the decision to be sexually active, please be mature enough to talk with partners and get tested.