Stay protected with STI testing

Getting tested for Sexually-Transmitted Infections (STIs) can give you peace of mind and protect you and your sexual partners from serious health consequences

Director Kate McIntyre at the Queen’s Sexual Health and Resource Centre (SHRC). McIntyre says students should get tested for Sexually-Transmitted Infections (STIs) and have an open dialogue about their sexual history with their sexual partners.
Director Kate McIntyre at the Queen’s Sexual Health and Resource Centre (SHRC). McIntyre says students should get tested for Sexually-Transmitted Infections (STIs) and have an open dialogue about their sexual history with their sexual partners.
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Sexually-Transmitted Infections (STIs) are common on university campuses. But sexual health experts on campus say getting tested for STIs isn’t as common as it should be.

Kate McIntyre, director of the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC), said misconceptions about STIs and STI testing mean that many people aren’t being tested.

“Perhaps some individuals think they are not at risk, whether or not that is the case, and some may be afraid of STI testing procedures because they do not know what they involve,” McIntyre said.

Information on STIs and STI testing is one of the most frequent questions brought to the SHRC, but McIntyre said it’s also important for people to discuss their sexual history with sexual partners. Many students may feel awkward broaching the subject of STIs with their sexual partners, McIntyre said.

“It may be difficult to talk about STIs, but if one is in a relationship in which those involved feel safe, respect each other and can be honest with each other, then it may be easier to have that conversation.”

There are ways to approach the subject tactfully, she said. Rather than asking your sexual partner outright about their history or whether they’ve been tested, you can open the discussion by talking about your sexual history or explaining you’ve been tested.

“If you open the discussion by sharing this information, it may create a safe space for your partner to also share,” McIntyre said.

Depending on the infection, STIs are detected through either a blood or urine test. Tests for viral infections such as HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis require a blood sample. Herpes and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are also viral infections, but are tested through simple visual inspection. Bacterial infections such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia are detected through a urine sample. For women, these can also be tested during a pap smear.

McIntyre said people with STIs that aren’t curable can still lead perfectly comfortable lives. Most STIs are treated by antibiotics.

“Getting an STI does not have to be a sentence,” she said.

Chlamydia is the most common STI among young adults aged 18 to 24, but gonorrhoea has been on the rise in the last five to 10 years. The Public Health Agency of Canada reported that there were 1,367 reports of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2006, but the number of reported cases of gonorrhoea increased by 90 per cent from 1997 to 2005. STI testing is available at several places around the Queen’s area, including the LaSalle Building on campus and the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Sexual Health Clinic.

Jeff Koenig, a public health nurse at KFL&A, said he recommends getting tested at least once a year depending on a person’s sexual activity and how they and their partner feel.

“People who are sexually active should definitely get tested,” he said. “Even if people believe they are practicing safe sex—i.e. using condoms—they should still get tested because some infections are spread orally, or through skin-to-skin contact.”

Koenig worked at Queen’s as one of the SHRC’s “sexperts,” volunteers who counsel students on issues of sex, sexuality and sexual health, as well as introduce them to the various sex toys the SHRC has in stock. He said condoms are the best way to stay safe, but there’s always a risk.

“You can never be 100 per cent sure, especially since lots of STIs don’t show symptoms.”

All infections have serious health consequences if left untreated. Syphilis, if left untreated, can cause damage to the heart and eyes and lead to dementia. It can also be fatal in some cases.

Gonorrhoea and chlamydia left untreated can lead to infertility in men and women due to damage to the reproductive organs. In rare cases, gonorrhoea can spread into the bloodstream and infect the joints, heart valves or brain. If HPV is left untreated for a long time, it may lead to cervical cancer. The risk of contracting HIV increases if any other STIs are contracted, and if left untreated, HIV is fatal. 

Koenig said treatment is available and accessible, though. Referrals must be made for the treatment of HIV, but for those tested at KFL&A, the antibiotics for other STI treatments are dispensed at the clinic.

Koenig said it’s important that people be informed about STIs before the test so they can know which infections they’re concerned about. At KFL&A, patients can request any test they want and be assessed for their risks. Anyone can be tested for any STI they wish to be tested for, even if they are not considered to be in a specific risk group. Some of the risk groups include people who are using intravenous drugs and people who have multiple partners. Identifying your risk group ensures you’re being tested for the specific infection you’re considered to be at risk for.

“It’s important for people to know where their risks lie, but they can be tested for whichever STIs they would like,” Koenig said.

Kris Bergmann, Internal Educator of the SHRC said STIs are something people should be thinking about.

“They’re more common than people think, especially on university campuses,” he said.

Bergmann said people should get tested for their personal safety, their partner’s safety, as well as their physical and mental well-being, adding that when considering their risk of getting infected, they shouldn’t rely on probabilities.

“It’s not about categorizing people into a specific group,” he said. “It’s such a personal thing. It’s about you and your personal health.”

Using barrier methods properly is key to protecting yourself, Bergmann said. Barrier methods include latex or polyurethane male condoms, reality condoms, and/or dental dams. These should be used during all forms of sexual activity.

But Bergmann said the fear surrounding STIs can be reduced by getting tested.

“It makes you a better person to be responsible and get tested.”

Your best bets on safer sex

Get tested for STIs at any of the testing centres in Kingston and on campus. STI testing is available at the LaSalle Building on Stuart St. The test and treatment are covered by UHIP. The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Seuxal Health Clinic also offers anonymous walk-in testing. Located at 221 Portsmouth Ave., the clinic is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. Testing and treatment are covered by OHIP.

Stop by the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC) and find out all you need to know about STIs and how to have safe sex. The SHRC is a confidential, non-judgemental information and referral service for questions regarding sexuality and sexual health. The SHRC is located in the JDUC room 223.

For tips on proper condom use, check out the SHRC website at clubs.myams.org/shrc.

—Carolyn Flanagan

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