Knowing after 9 steps

Just a mouth swab and about a 20-minute wait can tell a Butler University student if he or she is HIV positive.

That test, along with one for gonorrhea and chlamydia, is available on-campus for free through a partnership with the Damien Center.

Butler teamed up with the Damien Center, an organization that provides HIV/AIDS and STD testing, to host two free testing nights last semester for sexually transmitted diseases. Both nights saw a turnout of 40 to 50 students.

That led them to offer six testing opportunities this semester as part of ongoing programs meant to open up a dialogue about sexuality and  to promote good information.

Testing nights

Rashida Walker, who works with people ages 13 to 24 at the Damien Center, said even people who aren’t sexually active should get tested. That way, they know what the test is like so when an emergency comes up later, they are more prepared.

“Get in the habit so that if the risk happens, you can be less stressed about getting tested,” she said.

The Damien Center conducted more than 1,500 tests in 2010—a more than 57 percent increase from 2009.

Walker said the center tries to eliminate the stigma surrounding testing and testers will never lecture anyone who has engaged in high-risk behavior.

“We’ll never say what you’re doing is stupid,” she said. “We’ll give you alternatives to risky behavior.”

Senior psychology major Toni Maraldo, a member of Greek Educators, Advocates and Resources, a peer education organization that helped sponsor the testing nights, said she felt the atmosphere was open.

“At first I felt a little uncomfortable going to a testing center around my peers versus getting testing at Planned Parenthood where you wouldn’t know anyone,” Maraldo said. “But everyone was super cool about it, and there was no awkwardness when I got there, so it was a really good experience.”

Tara Thornburg, a second-year physician assistant student, attended a testing night as well and agreed “It was a completely open atmosphere,” Thornburg said. “Initially the group that was there to get tested was very on edge, but you could tell the feel in the room got more laid back as you went through the process. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

About 50 percent of people will contract an STD at some point in their lives. Butler does not keep records on how many people are tested or what the incidence rate is.
Maraldo said students cannot know their status until they’ve been tested.

“It doesn’t just happen to the person who sleeps around or the person who isn’t smart,” Maraldo said. “It could happen to anyone.”

Dr. Maria Fletcher said part of her job in Health Services is encouraging healthy sexual behavior. She said that everyone should get in the habit of getting tested for STDs as part of having healthy relationships.

“It’s part of loving to present yourself in the best way,” Fletcher said. “And if you know that you’re free from sexually transmitted diseases, that would be the best way.”

On-campus culture

Walker said this generation is overlooked when talking about sex and the importance of testing.

People were informed during the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and 1990s, but she said a lot of schools are less open now about discussing sexuality.

Media reports also warn of a “hookup” culture that involves having many partners and is influenced by alcohol and the environment of college campuses.

Thornburg said she sees views on sexuality as being not as tied to the college environment as tied to the age of students.

“I think there is a hookup culture,” Thornburg said. “It’s natural, it’s normal, it’s human nature. You should practice your own morals and beliefs and be strong in what you’re doing.”

A study of college students by researchers at Stanford University found 72 percent of both sexes reported having at least one hookup, with an average of 9.7 for men and 7.1 for women. The definition of a hookup changes for many people and can range from kissing to sex.

Sophomore psychology major Jason Donahue said hooking up is not a bad thing as long as both people are on the same page.

“Each person has different values,” Donahue said. “If someone is looking for a physical relationship and not ready for the emotional attachment, they are entitled to that.”

Both Donahue and Maraldo said Butler students’ actions and the atmosphere is similar to any other campus but that its smaller size affects how people act and talk about sex.

“I think the attitude on campus is that we all know what is going on, but we don’t talk about it that much,” she said. “You talk with your friends and gossip on the day after the weekend, but in general I don’t think sexuality is talked about enough on campus.

Junior resident assistant Megan Cullen is heading up an RA-sponsored event today that will invite a panel to talk about relationships and sexual health issues. She said the topic is pertinent to all students and the topic should be more openly discussed.

“It goes right along with going to class, parties, alcohol and sports,” she said.

Some may see the current generation as being less responsible as well as uninformed, but Walker said many of the young adults she meets are logical and willing to learn and teach others about sexual health.

“I’m impressed by how receptive they are to taking control of their own sexual lives,” she said.

While a majority of students say they have hooked up, there are many who don’t. Just less than one-quarter of seniors in the Stanford study said they are virgins.

Sophomore Kelsey Lindsay, who is active in Butler’s Cru, said she does see a hook-up culture at Butler. While she and the group may not condone sex outside of marriage, there is little judgment of people who engage in it.

“People who are on staff at Cru believe what the Bible tells us, that having pre-martial sex is wrong,” Lindsay said. “But at the same time, that’s not the only sin. People mess up a lot, we’re not perfect, and Cru’s going to accept you for who you are.”

Rev. Charles Allen, the chaplain for Grace Unlimited, said students sometimes approach him with moral questions about their lives and their peers. His biggest warning to students, he said, is the emotional damage that can happen if someone does something he or she is uncomfortable with.

“Don’t feel a need to be like other folks,” he said. “[A sexual relationship] can blow up in your face if you’re not careful.”

Allen said people need to think through the consequences of their actions in other ways too.

“I think we deceive ourselves if we think it’s just casual sex,” he said. “It connects you to another person in a way that you can’t just say, ‘Well, that was nice.’”

Fletcher said while she sees students who are engaging in casual sex, she counsels many who are in monogamous relationships or are virgins.

“The college culture makes you feel like it’s the norm to have casual sex, but I think that’s far from the truth,” Fletcher said.

Other programs
Sarah Barnes-Diaz, health education and outreach programs coordinator at Butler, said her goal is to provide information and resources to students so they can make informed decisions, whether they decide to have sex or not.

Along with the testing nights, Barnes-Diaz also helps organize other events with Peers Advocating Wellness for Students, such as Sex on the Mall and a sexual education discussion called “That’s What She Said” in the spring.
The events are well attended, and  students are open to them, Barnes-Diaz said.

“It kind of surprised me in the beginning that Butler students were so open to talking about sex and sexuality, but through these programs I’m realizing that people are willing to come out and talk,” she said.

Testing at the Health Center

1. GO to testing night at Health Services in the HRC.

2. TAKE a number and fill out a basic information form.

3. SWAB the inside of your mouth to test for HIV.

4. GIVE a urine sample if you’re a male.

5. SWAB the inside of your vagina if you’re a female.

6. WAIT about 20 minutes.

7. GET your HIV results.

8. WAIT about two weeks.

9. CALL for other STD results.

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