With STIs on the rise, Lauderdale reminds students to practice safe sex

The Lauderdale Health and Counseling Center has a station where students can pick up different male and female condoms. These safe sex tools are also available other places on campus, including the residence halls (pictured above) (Annalee Bainnson/Former photo editor).

Geneseo’s student body serves as a parallel to national trends of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to a Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance Report published in October 2019 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have reached an all-time high across the United States for the fifth consecutive year. 

Elizabeth Torrone, CDC epidemiologist who contributed to the 2019 STD Surveillance Report said that there have been 2.4 million infections diagnosed and reported last year alone, according to CNN. 

“Many people think that STI’s are stagnant, that’s not true,” Lauderdale physician assistant Penny Ashton said. “There is new research to support that biology is constantly changing and evolving.” 

A study published in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections in May 2019 found that oropharyngeal gonorrhea may be spread through kissing, previously an unrecognized mode of transmission for this particular STI. 

The Melbourne based study recruited more than 3,000 gay and bisexual men who participate in sexual activities exclusively with men to participate in this study. 

Participants were stratified into three categories of relationships: kissing-only, sex-only and both. The median age of participants was 30 years old, and 6.2 percent were currently infected with oropharyngeal gonorrhea. 

Researchers found that sexual relations including kissing turned over the highest percentage of transmission at 5 percent. Kissing-only relationships transmitted 4.3 percent and exclusively sexual relations transmitted the lowest number of infections, resulting in 1.4 percent. The sex-only group was found to not be affiliated with the transmission of oropharyngeal gonorrhea at all, which has never been demonstrated in research before. 

The Australian research team concluded that engaging solely in the act of kissing is associated with the transmission of oropharyngeal gonorrhea. 

“Part of what we do here is STI screening, considering the health of our students is our priority,” Ashton said. “In the medical field it was always felt that gonorrhea was contracted by either participating in oral sex or oral to anal sex.”

Up until the publication of this research in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections, kissing was not a recognized mode of transmission for oropharyngeal gonorrhea. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recognized the Australian study in July 2019. 

“In light of new research, students need to practice safe sexual practices, know their partners and know their STI status as well as their partners,” Ashton said. 

According to the CDC, half of all new STI cases are in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. 

“We are seeing a rise in STI’s across the country, specifically chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis. This is because people are not following the recommended safe sex practices of using condoms, among others. When I ask students if they are using condoms, the answer is often ‘no,’” Ashton said. 

The Self Care Center located on the first floor of Lauderdale has brochures, male and female condoms, dental dams, gynecological exams, reduced price contraceptives, pregnancy testing and counseling, STI testing and treatment, HIV testing and counseling and emergency contraceptives. 

“If you are engaged in French kissing with a male who is bisexual, it is now recognized that there is potential exposure to oral gonorrhea. The American Academy of pediatrics recommends that all teenagers be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea on a yearly basis during their physical with a urine test,” Ashton said. “Once you’re sexually active, we recommend routine screening once a year sooner if you feel that you’ve had an exposure and promoting the safe sexual practices to prevent STI.” 

Ashton said that there is no particular STI on the rise among the student body but overall, Geneseo follows the national trend that there are more cases of STIs treated every year. 

“We are seeing more reports of STI’s across the board year to year at Geneseo,” Ashton said. “Part of that is because there is a misconception that we have STI’s under control or that a pill can make things go away. HIV, for example, doesn’t carry the fear factor that it used to.”