During the lifetime of the average student at the University of Galway, the public discourse around sexually-transmitted infections has shifted dramatically. Gone are the days when STIs were a source of fear, an object of ridicule or an uncomfortable elephant in the room. Thanks to better education, advocacy and supports, no person needs to feel the cold embrace of shame as a result of contracting an STI.
Established by former UG Students’ Union President Róisín Nic Lochlainn and now in its second year, Consent Week is a weeklong programme of events organised by the SU in partnership with Active Consent. According to the Outreach Coordinator of Active Consent Caroline West, the week “highlights the importance of consent and sexual wellness and helps people to feel empowered around their relationships.”
Consent Week 2023 took place from Monday the 13th to Friday the 17th of February. Amongst a host of vibrant and varied events were an Image Based Sexual Abuse Workshop, LGBTQ Sex Ed, “Guess How Condoms are in the Jar” and the ever-popular Sex Toy Bingo. Evidently, the goal of the week was for all attendees to experience a shame-free environment where stigmas were left at the door.
To encourage a more positive attitude towards STIs, the Student Health Unit offered free STI tests to students. Throughout the week, students could simply go online, book their appointment and get tested at no expense to themselves.
An unfortunate stereotype that stills pervades our culture in relation to STIs is that only those who have frequent sexual encounters with a litany of different partners need to get tested regularly. West put this myth to rest and emphasised the importance of all sexually active people having regular checks regardless of the nature of their sex lives.
“There is no shame in having an STI and most are curable and others are treatable. Having regular sexual health checks is essential for healthy relationships,” she said.
SU President Sai Gujulla echoed this sentiment, saying “as well as mental health and physical health, it’s also important to be sexually healthy. That’s why we would encourage students to take part in it as we don’t want any student suffering from STIs or even being a carrier for STIs.”
Society has clearly evolved to the point that a mention of someone carrying an STI does not incite an instant reaction of panic or concern. However, it worth bearing in mind that while the majority of the more commonplace STIs are benign, it is vital that they are treated early to avoid complications.
Dr Eoin Mac Donncha is the Medical Director of the Student Health Unit. He stressed that even if one does not have obvious symptoms, they are not necessarily in the clear.
“If you are sexually active and have engaged in any unprotected sex, including the giving or receiving of any unprotected oral sex, it is really important to consider undergoing regular STI screening. It is never safe to simply rely on the absence of any STI symptoms as evidence that you don’t have an STI,” he said.
“Unfortunately, 7 out of 10 women who have Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea infection will not exhibit any symptoms, while 50% of men who have Chlamydia and 10% of men who have Gonorrhoea, will not have any symptoms”.
Mac Donncha has noted an unfortunate increase in the incidence of STIs on campus since September.
“The Student Health Unit STI screening service has noticed a significant increase within the current academic year in the number of cases of Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea that have been detected on throat swab samples,” he said.
In addition to keeping oneself safe, Mac Donncha pointed out that getting tested regularly enables “early tracing and informing of any potential sexual contacts”.
Regardless of your gender, sexual orientation or number of sexual partners, getting regular STI tests keeps you and those around you safe. In our increasingly sex-positive society where tests are affordable and readily available, it couldn’t be easier.
To book an appointment for an STI test with the UG Student Health Unit, click here.