BY EMILY DEPASSE
Sex is associated with feelings of pleasure, and with that pleasure, comes risk.
Most have probably heard the, “Sex is like riding a bicycle,” cliché. When we coast along on our bicycles across campus, we risk the chance of losing our balance and falling against the pavement. When we engage in sexual contact, we risk not only infection, but also the increased chance of a broken heart.
Remember that cute boy that helped you carry your bags up to the sixth floor of Severn? The one you talked about during the walk from Conway Hall to Commons? The one you haven’t stopped thinking about? It’s been about two weeks since you first slept with him. You don’t know which direction things are headed, but you do know that he is your only sexual partner at the moment. You wake up early Wednesday morning for your dreaded 8AM math class, and something just feels off. Your mind is cloudy, you feel a deep achiness, and walking becomes unbearable. At first, you thought it was a minor yeast infection, very common and often happens with sexual contact. It’s been a few days, and your normal, go-to treatment method has done nothing to alleviate the pain between your legs. You look at yourself in your mirror that’s double-taped beside your bed and begin to cry. “What if’s” and “things like this don’t happen to me” immediately flood your brain.
As humans, we have this habit of jumping to conclusions. We often become defensive if there is something “wrong” with us. We feel like we’re being attacked, but is a potential STI diagnosis really so scary? Society would have us believe that there is something inherently negative about contracting an STI. Amidst the presence of sexuality, sexual expression, and objectification presented through the media on a daily basis—it’s no wonder that we’re confused. Sexuality surrounds us, but bringing its effects into discussion implies shame and dirtiness. Even in most sexual health education programs, there is nothing we come across that lets us know that we will be okay; the conversations are cold, clinical, and present these infections as devastating. We are receiving mixed messages here. How can we so easily accept the side-effects that come with the bicycle but not with our sex lives?
Your roommate walks in as you wipe away the remainder of your tears and decide to confide in her about your speculation. You Google your symptoms, looking for answers of what they could and could not be. She convinces you to take the next step and schedule the seemingly daunting appointment with Student Health Services.
As you and your friend make your way across campus to Holloway Hall, despite its decrepit smell and humid stairwells, there is an unknown aura of history that lurks between its walls. While listening in on current campus conversations, it is difficult to imagine that sex was ever a taboo topic among Salisbury University’s attendees, but years ago, it was just that. In issues of The Holly Leaf, what we now know today as The Flyer, from the 1950s through 1960s, gossip columns, “Through the Keyhole” and “Snoopy”, were dedicated to divulging who was dating whom on campus and even frequently expressed marriage announcements. Nowadays, we do not need The Flyer to update us on campus relationships, we have social media for that. Additionally, men and women did not share dormitory buildings as they do now. The locations of the men’s dormitories were Wicomico and Pocomoke Hall, while the women’s dormitories were located in Manokin Hall and Holloway Hall. While there were no mentions of hook-ups in The Holly Leaf (although there was an interview with a Panty Raider) one can only imagine the gossip and stolen stairwell kisses that did not make publication.
As you begin to walk past the registrar’s office, your heart drops. You look at your friend as she grabs your hand and promises you that it will be okay. And she’s right, it will be okay, you will be okay. After all, herpes is a just a skin condition. If you’ve ever had a cold sore, you too have a form of the herpes virus. Recently, the CDC noted that genital HSV-1 has seen more prevalence due to the rise in oral sex. Although herpes does not have a cure, it is manageable. You may have one outbreak for the rest of your life, or you may have more frequently reoccurring outbreaks. Each body responds to the virus differently, and with your diagnosis, you will learn your body and its response in new light. What you cannot anticipate is how partners, and potential partners, will respond.
Telling your partner has not even been a thought in your head until now because of that fear of judgement. What happens when you fall off your bicycle on your way to class? It hurts. We’re embarrassed. What happens when our hearts become broken? They ache. How does it feel when we break our leg? It’s painful. How does it feel when you are having a symptomatic* herpes outbreak? It’s painful. The differences between these two pains? Shame. There is no shame associated with a broken leg, but there is rarely discussed and unnecessary shame attached to an STI diagnosis.
Before you walk across campus to Health Services, it is suggested that you first make an appointment through their web platform, or by telephone. The Health Services website also provides specific information about STD testing , including basic expectations. As a former student who has sought testing through the university during my undergraduate years, I can attest that it will probably be an awkward experience no matter where you go. What I do know is that that Salisbury University’s Student Health Services is equipped to test for STIs. And if you do happen to leave the clinic with a positive diagnosis for herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or the like, I know you will be okay. I know it is possible to survive the stigma, because I did, and continue to battle it each day. People are more than their medical conditions, diseases, and infections, and it’s about time that the world takes that into the bicycle equation.
*some outbreaks have no symptoms (asymptomatic)