The cold, hard truth about STIs

I would like to take this opportunity to reply to the “Rubbers for Rams!” Op/Ed from the March 31 edition.

As the director of the Office of Health Promotion, University Student Health Services, I am well acquainted with the opinions expressed by the author of the editorial. However, we have chosen to take a research-based and proactive approach to sexuality education and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention on campus. Providing affordable condoms through our pharmacy and small numbers of samples in the clinic examination rooms are just one part of this approach.

We are actually basing our public health efforts on cold, hard statistics. Yes we surveyed 810 VCU undergraduate students last spring*. Results from the survey were not reassuring for those of us who worry about STI rates on campus. First, the good news: we found that of the 81 percent who indicated they had been sexually active within the last school year, the majority said they had only had one partner. Now the discouraging news: Only 43 percent of sexually active students replied they had used a condom the last time they had sex.

So why aren’t students who are choosing to be sexually active using condoms? Public health studies are finding that there are many barriers to condom use. One of them is poor access. In contrast to Mr. Marra’s opinion, public health efforts geared toward providing sexual health education along with increasing condom availability have not shown that this protocol increases sexual activity. Instead, sexually transmitted infection rates drop in the target population. This is because condoms are an effective means of preventing infection.

Mr. Marra’s statement: “Besides, condoms being only slightly effective in reducing transmission of disease” needs clarification. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel recently examined peer-reviewed studies that looked at the effectiveness rate of condoms for STI prevention. This panel concurred that this research showed that condoms are very effective in reducing STIs.

We are well aware of the fact that the only 100 percent effective way to prevent STIs is abstinence. Abstinence is a healthy choice, and we support and promote that choice whenever possible, both in the clinic and around campus. Student health clinicians and health educators can give a student a whole list of reasons why abstinence is a great choice. Every day we provide that kind of education and support.

Good health is vital when it comes to being a successful student. Our job at University Student Health Services is to employ public health efforts and provide clinic services in order to increase the students’ chance of having a healthy career at VCU. We know how important the paper supply is to students and faculty. However, for students who are distracted from their studies by such personal issues as pregnancy or STIs, the problems presented by a paper shortage may dim in comparison to their personal health issues. By providing a balanced prevention program, we hope to increase the number of students who are able to make well-informed, healthy decisions for themselves.

Betty Reppert, PA-C, MPH
Director, Office of Health Promotion,
University Student Health Services

*National College Health Assessment, Spring 2002

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