I sat down with Tufts Health Service’s Dr. Stacey Sperling, who gave me inside information on what she sees regarding sexual health at Tufts. Please submit your questions in the comment section!
1. What advice would you give to a student with a new sexual partner?
If a student has a brand new sexual partner, I’d say: use condoms and have a good time! If it becomes a relationship, I would still recommend they use condoms until they decide this is a life partner. There are diseases that we can’t test for. Herpes is the classic example because the blood test for herpes is not particularly sensitive. Herpes is spread by skin-to-skin contact, and you can be shedding the virus without knowing you’re exposed to it. [See previous post on herpes for more info.] If you’re willing to take that chance in a long-term, monogamous relationship, then get tested for everything before you stop using condoms. But until you’re in the relationship you’re going to be in for a lifetime, condoms are really important. And we give them out for free at Health Services [they’re right by the door]!
2. What are the most common questions you receive about sexual health, sexual assault and/or health relationships?
The most common questions have to do with pregnancy and birth control. When I diagnosis students with STIs, they often ask questions about contacting their previous partners – how far back they have to go and how to go about doing this. My response is that straight-forward honesty is the best policy. How far back you go is very individual… it depends on when they first got symptoms, who they’re having sex with, etc. There are some polyamorous students on campus, who have multiple sex partners within a group, and those students tend to have more questions about contacts.
3. Do you see a difference in the way people access care based on their ethnicity or nationality?
Within ethnicity and nationality, I don’t see a difference. Students who come from countries with socialized medicine are surprised that we don’t do more, that medication isn’t free, and that there is a co-pay if we refer them for an outside consultation. I see more of a difference in the way students access care according to their age. For general health, younger students use us much more, sometimes for less significant illnesses. For sexual health, students use us carefully and well. People generally don’t come in until they get scared. I wouldn’t know if they use any other services instead, but I think we have a good reputation.
4. Is there anything else you wish students know?
Students should know that they can call to make an appointment and just say they have “a personal issue” if they are embarrassed to say they want STI or pregnancy testing. We used to have an STI walk-in clinic, but we’re taking a temporary pause this semester because we’re currently understaffed.