If you liked it then you should have put a rubber on it

By Andrew Sheeler

Alaska leads the country in a number of areas. We have the Lower 48 beat in land mass, income equality, coastal area and glaciers. Those are all things to be proud of. You won’t see Alaskans bragging about another area where we lead: sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s).

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) listed Alaska as the number two state for chlamydia infection in 2009, with 753 reported infections per 100,000 people. Only Mississippi had more. Chlamydia, the most common STD, is most prevalent in a state with one of the smallest populations. There’s bad news and good news here. First, the bad news. Dr. BJ Aldrich, director of the Health Center, said that last year there were 25 reported cases of chlamydia on campus. That doesn’t take into account cases reported off-campus, or the fact that chlamydia’s symptoms can often go undetected, especially in women. Untreated, Chlamydia can cause painful swelling, inflammation, pregnancy complications and in rare cases sterility in men.

The good news? The most common STD in America is also treatable and preventable. Thanks to the miracle of penicillin and latex, chlamydia is one doctor’s visit or condom away from being yesterday’s woe.

And then there is gonorrhea. Alaska fares a little better in this area, but still consistently places in the Top 10 in reported rates nationwide. In 2009, Alaska had 144.3 reported cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 people. Gonorrhea can cause genital pus discharge, painful sexual intercourse and infertility in women if left untreated. In the ‘40s, gonorrhea was so feared that the U.S. military released propaganda posters saying, “You can’t be the Axis if you get VD.” In the state of Alaska, gonorrhea is most common in the southwest. But don’t think for a second that it’s not here in Fairbanks as well. There was a reported case at the Health Center last year.

Like chlamydia, gonorrhea can be treated. It is also easily preventable. Unless, of course, you listen to Bristol Palin.

For Sexual Responsibility Week, the week of Valentine’s Day, Washington University in Missouri had planned to have Bristol Palin speak as part of a panel on student sexual health. Students of Washington U questioned Palin’s “expertise,” as well as the use of student funds to pay her speaking fee, which ranges from $15,000 to $30,000, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After major student protest, the university pulled Palin from the event, making sure to characterize the decision as “mutual.” Good for them.

Bristol Palin is a brilliant spokewoman for the cause of sexual responsibility, but only because she serves as a cautionary tale of the consequences of abstinence-only education. The abstinence movement believes that the only real way to prevent STD and pregnancy is by abstaining entirely from sex until marriage. Never mind that every shred of research on the subject debunks the effectiveness of abstinence.

Like the students at Washington U, it appears that UAF students are rejecting the failed approach represented by the abstinence crowd. Dr. Aldrich said that the majority of the students seen at the Health Center reported using condoms, although many said they did so infrequently. Because of that, there were fewer than five reported unplanned pregnancies last year.

There’s one other bright spot. With all the STD cases Dr. Aldrich has seen at the Health Center, there is one conspicuous absence.

“I’ve been here for 10 years and I haven’t seen a case of HIV, knock on wood.”

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