The Valentine’s season brings lots of hugs, kisses and love. But it’s the not so romantic gifts that keep on giving, like sexually transmitted infections, that can create long-term health problems.
“We’re seeing rates increase,” said Monica Hendrickson, the public health administrator at the Peoria County Health Department. “Peoria County overall historically has had really high STI or sexually transmitted infection rates.”
Regardless of whether you’re sexually active, Hendrickson says Central Illinois can’t afford to overlook the rising rates of STIs, especially among young people.
“Our age range is really 15-29 year old, which isn’t surprising. That’s usually the largest sexual activity during those ages as well,” she said.
The data from the Illinois Department of Public Health is eye-opening, especially when it comes to gonorrhea and chlamydia. The most recent report from 2017 has Peoria County third in the state when it comes to its 891 gonorrhea cases. Peoria County was ninth in the state with 1669 chlamydia cases. According to the 2017 IDPH report, McLean County had 214 cases of gonorrhea and 966 cases of chlamydia; Tazewell County had 88 cases of gonorrhea and 367 cases of chlamydia; and Woodford County is listed as having 14 cases of gonorrhea and 82 chlamydia cases.
The sexual health conversations are ones that Sam Kiesewetter and Sophia Fishkin are very familiar with.
“The more information you have available to you, the better off you will be,” said Kiesewetter.
Kiesewetter and Fishkin are Bradley University seniors part of the Heat program. There, they serve as wellness peer educators who in part focus on sexual health.
“Kids can be ridden with the idea you know bringing up a subject that they’re not necessarily comfortable with could bring them stress and could bring them kind of embarrassment,” said Fishkin.
But in this digital age, does monitoring your sexual health have to be such an uncomfortable experience? What if a smart phone app could help you out? With a simple App Store search, you can find a few popular options.
STD Triage and Dermio both allow app users to snap photos of their “below the belt concerns”, submit them to a team of dermatologists and get an educated guess or treatment plan delivered within 24 hours for a fee. The SAFE Sex App helps users easily find lab sites in their area and schedule to get tested. It then allows users to privately share their verified STI status to partners.
Fishkin stated she’s interested in the concepts. “Having a digital app and having it on their phones and something that we know they keep on them at all times is an interesting idea to have something that’s reminding them all the time,” she said.
“Students—if they’re in a position where they can make informed decisions through their college career then I think they’re in a good spot,” said Kiesewetter.
While the app-based resources can be beneficial, they shouldn’t be the end all be all for checking your sexual health.
Fishkin said, “I think that if we can start the conversation, you know have people on hand that can correct or you know validate information, that’s always an important part of having access to information.”
Whether you’re discussing your sexual health with your partner, doctor, or parents, the awkwardness may linger, but health experts say awareness shouldn’t come with shame.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s your overall health and so educating individuals to be advocates for their own health,” Hendrickson said.