The Monthly Installment. Anyone who’s ever taken a shit on campus is familiar with it. For our outside readers, it’s a colorful piece of paper posted inside the bathroom stalls each month, courtesy of University Health Service. While often well-intended, it’s considered somewhat of a joke. The most helpful thing I ever remember seeing on it was a recipe for microwavable brownies posted during my freshman year. If I remember correctly, this was during February, the month where they generally abandon the health-related advice in favor of something Valentine’s themed.
This month, however, the issue ostensibly focuses on urging students to get themselves tested for STDs. As if we don’t already have enough tests in April. As usual, the single page is rife with useless information and misleading stats, forcing us to wonder if even they’ve stopped taking themselves seriously.
The first thing I feel I have to mention is the gigantic statistic jumping out at you front and center, as if it’s the most important thing you could possibly take away from a lesson about STDs. It reads: “One in two sexually active people will contract an STI by age 25 and most won’t even know it!”
I’ve definitely heard that “fact” before, and I roll my eyes every time. The inherent contradiction in it is all I see — if most of these unfortunate STI sufferers don’t know they have an STI, then how on earth did you come up with the one in two stat? In theory, wouldn’t they be counted as the one who doesn’t have the STI, ignorant of their own infection? It makes no sense! At this point, I’m not exactly expecting better from UHS, but statements like that irk me every time I see them, and it’s frustrating to think that even one person may have read that and taken it at face value.
Bullshit numbers aside, the rest of the Installment seems to be filled with mostly purposeless information. There are two boxes which, at a first glance, are focused on promoting penis and vulva health, respectively. When read closer, however, they’re mostly full of useless information, including facts such as the duration of both male and female orgasms. Why bother? Essentially everyone who this information applies to is already pretty familiar with it. Furthermore, it has virtually nothing to do with sexual health, unless you’re one of the rare few experiencing abnormally long orgasms (and it’s not like you’d want to put a stop to that, anyway).
On the male side, we’re also informed that penises are breakable (though it doesn’t tell you how this can be prevented — not helpful), and women are alerted to the fact that (gasp!) the clitoris is more sensitive than the rest of the vagina. Whether this is meant to be a hint to the men out there or a masturbation tip for particularly clueless women, it’s certainly not going to help anyone’s health.
The closest one of these sections comes to offering health related information is the “healthy vulva” box, which reminds women that most of those who have an STI don’t notice it because “everything is inside, which makes it harder to see.” No shit. Of course, they don’t bother to give any tips as to how to overcome this obstacle, such as what sort of non-visual signs might be considered symptomatic.
Another noteworthy section is devoted to telling us all about the curable STIs — it talks about how to best prevent them (wear a condom, duh), how they present and it even gives a number to call if you’d like to know how to relieve the itching from crabs. I can imagine that would be a fantastic conversation. Seriously though, what college student is going to make that phone call?
But to the point — what about the incurable STIs? If the purpose of this is to make students aware, why would you blatantly leave out half the potential infections they could contract? And the more severe infections at that! Based on the “one in two” fact, UHS clearly isn’t opposed to using scare tactics, so why would they ditch the chance to mention the STIs that screw you over? If anything’s going to convince a promiscuous student to use a condom, it certainly won’t be the curability of chlamydia. How about mentioning herpes, one of the more common STIs, that stays around for-freaking-ever?
Though, to give credit where credit is due, there is one section of the Installment that is actually worth the space it takes up — I’m referring to the section that gives tips on talking to your partner about STIs. This is easily one of the most important issues covered, and something students are bound to have the most difficulty with. While the specific tips are somewhat mediocre (one suggestion is not to broach the subject while naked), the intent is definitely there.
The biggest problem is that it fails to acknowledge how difficult these conversations can be with someone who isn’t exactly your partner, but was more of a one night stand. Talking in these situations is just as important, but the tact needed is very different. Regardless, I’m glad they mentioned the communication issue at all.
I do respect that UHS obviously has the intent to inform, but I wonder what sort of discussions result as the final product of each month’s Installment. It seems to be the case that not much effort is put into considering how students are actually going to react to and use the information presented to them. Perhaps enlisting the help of some of the students themselves would be a productive move toward a better Installment.
Bazarian is a member of
the class of 2013.