InSPOT.org allows people to send an e-postcard to advise sexual partners they should get an STD screening (InSPOT.org)
Sexually-transmitted diseases and infections from unprotected partners create not only physical problems, but emotional as well, particularly when it comes time to share the news with the other person.
Kimberly Heffernan, a professor at the University of Maryland, said it is difficult to find statistics gathered specific to college students and STDs, more recently referred to as STIs.
“Most are clumped together with their age cohorts (15-19, 20-25 years). But, the fastest growing incidence rates are among these age groups. Figures fall around two-thirds of all STDs occur in individuals under 25-years old.”
InSPOT, a program developed by the San Francisco-based organization Internet Sexuality Information Services, offers a technological method to advise a sexual buddy it’s time to see the doctor, circumventing the traditional in-person or via telephone routine.
Now, one only has to go to a web browser pointed to www.inspot.org, select “Tell Them,” and create an e-postcard. There are several design options available, all displaying a witty yet serious messages such as “I got screwed while screwing, you might have too.” Messages are available in English, French and Spanish.
There are tips for telling your partners, as well as medical information, written without medical jargon about the various STDs, their symptoms and possible treatments and cures. This site also provides and STD Q-and-A and lists numerous resources covering topics such as the use of condoms, sexual risk charts, and HIV testing.
The last section of the website is a searchable database of testing centers. One need only to type in his or her ZIP code for a list of nearby clinics.
Bob Ferguson, a psychology instructor who teaches human sexuality said he is impressed with the website.
“It seems that the information on the website would serve a very distinct purpose in educating the general public about STDs,” Ferguson said. “Also, I feel that this would serve a very positive purpose in alerting past partners about potential health issues.”
The best part — the e-card can be sent anonymously, or more courageous may sign his or her name.
However, Ferguson expressed a caveat about confidentiality issues.
“I understand that the information can be sent out anonymously but I feel that this could be easily compromised and that the information could be held against the originator of the information,” he said. ” This is a very sensitive moral issue that could be used legally and personally to harm users of the website.”
Ferguson added there is a legal precedent about advising, or not advising, partners about one’s STDs, specifically with AIDS.
“(Actor) Rock Hudson had AIDS and continued to be intimate with his partner Mark Christian without telling him,” Ferguson said. “Mr. Christian sued the estate of Hudson and collected.”
Heffernan and her colleague, Robin Sawyer, expressed both pros and cons of inspot.org.
Heffernan felt the verbiage used on the website was targeted towards those more educated than the normal demographic contracting STDs. She said rates are consistently highest among racial and ethnic minorities, most likely the result of poverty, lack of access to health care and an already high prevalence among these populations.
“Developers of the site seem to be targeting a relatively well-educated market,” Heffernan said. “More people could be positively impacted if well-intentioned program planners thought more about this.”
Sawyer saw benefits with inspot.org and also noted that females have few symptoms for STDs, if any. Because of this, it’s crucial they be told they need a check up. If the male doesn’t contact her, she may not know she has an infection.
“Women tend to better at notifying, but men aren’t exactly princes of communication about anything, never mind something as sensitive as this,” Sawyer said. “I’m a man, so I’m allowed to be frank about our shortcomings, so for males in particular who often shrink from direct contact, this is a great service.”
All three experts agreed that many college students often ignore, or are unaware, about sexually transmitted infections and diseases in general.
“I find that most (University of Maryland) female students use the pill as birth control which, at best, provides very little STI protection. So how many are using condoms/dental dams for every sexual encounter? Not enough,” Heffernan said. “In general, we are dealing with members of a population who believe that they are invincible. As bright as these college students may be, we know that simply having the knowledge that they are at risk does not equate to behavior change.”
Sawyer said most campuses have high, perhaps pandemic levels of STIs, as the 18-24 age group represents the highest proportion of STI infection in general. The most common are human papillomavirus (HPV or genital warts), chlamydia and trichomoniasis (“Trick”).
Students at Saddleback and IVC have a free and easily accessible source to turn to for testing, counseling or just for some information at the campus health centers.
As for college students and STDs, this is a topic every sexually active person should be thinking about every time they have sex.
Chris Hogstedt, the director of the health center at IVC said STDs is a topic every sexually active person should think about because some like HIV and herpes are not curable, only manageable with expensive medication. Others can cause irreversible damage.
“Talking about this important topic should be mandatory if you are having a sexual relationship,” Hogstedt said. “I am pleased to have students come in often to talk about STDs, and ask for testing. I worry about the ones who don’t.”
ISIS, the founders of the inSPOT concept, was established May 2001. According to their website, www.isis-inc.org, it develops technology for promotion of sexual health and healthy relationships, and to prevent the transmission of disease. Its mission is “to provide leadership, innovation, educational resources and research in online sexual health promotion.”