On the Wednesday before spring break, students were alerted to an uptick in diagnoses of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) on campus, including chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, and gonorrhea. The news came in the form of an email from Whitney Hogan, coordinator of health education. While the College has not released the exact number of confirmed cases, there have clearly been enough to incite concern.
Associate Dean Margaret Hazlett said the number of reported cases is unprecedented in her 15 years at the College, and that there has been a nationwide upswing in HIV/AIDS diagnoses on college campuses in recent years. While neither HIV nor AIDS has been diagnosed at Bowdoin, it is incredibly naive to think that students here are immune. HIV/AIDS is too often addressed as a dated or third-world problem irrelevant to Bowdoin. Given that most infectious diseases that take hold in the U.S. eventually work their way into the Bowdoin community—think swine flu—students ought to take heed.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, though young people aged 15 to 24 represent only a quarter of the U.S.' sexually active population, they account for almost half of new STI cases reported each year (9.1 of 18.9 million). Bowdoin's surge in chlamydia and gonorrhea cases is mirrored in statistics from the Center for Disease Control, which show an increase in cases among both men and women ages 20 to 24 in the last decade. Most dramatically, the CDC reports that syphilis rates among men in this age range have quadrupled between 2002 and 2010.
Because the transmission of STIs can be easily prevented with the use of condoms and other methods of protection, the uptick in diagnoses suggests that students are not practicing safe sex. With more students taking advantage of options like the pill and Plan B, the decreased risk of pregnancy may lull students into a false sense of security about STIs. Furthermore, while the link between sexual intercourse and STIs is clearly articulated—and easily remedied with a condom, ever-available in first year bricks—there has been less discourse on safe oral sex and how it fits into campus culture.
Whatever it is, the entire Bowdoin community must shoulder the burden of stemming the spread of STIs on campus. We hope people will get tested in light of this surge in reported cases and, to accommodate this heightened volume of students, we hope the Health Center will extend its hours. Last year, the Health Center was open weekends from noon to 2 p.m. but this year, it is closed entirely on these days. While the walk-in clinic at Maine Street Station is open, many students may prefer to seek care from providers on campus. Between student's hectic weekdays and the Health Center's tightly-booked daily schedules, 15 minutes of STI testing threatens to remain on student back burners unless opportunities are expanded.
Lastly, we hope that Bowdoin students avoid perpetuating a culture of stigmatization that silences and discourages individuals from accessing adequate treatment. It's easy to pretend that we are invulnerable to contracting an infection, but the cost of gambling with sexual health is too great to ignore.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which is comprised of Erica Berry, Nick Daniels, Carlo Davis, Sam Frizell, Linda Kinstler, and Zoë Lescaze.