April was “Get Yourself Tested Month” so I decided to go to the Student Health Center. I asked the front desk receptionist and was politely directed to the second floor clinic. After standing there for over a minute in silence, the receptionist finally acknowledged me by bluntly saying, “Do you have a question?” She seemed surprised and caught off guard by my apparent interruption. I asked if I could make an appointment to be tested. She asked, quite audibly, “Tested for what?” Once I explained to her that I would like to get an STI screening, she continued to work on her computer, printed something out, stapled it, and typed some more, all without saying one word to me. I felt like I was being judged and more importantly, shamed and dismissed. We eventually made my appointment for the next day.
The doctor asked just a few questions about my previous sex life and any concerns I may have had. He then ordered a urine test for an STI screening. I am fortunate enough to have the financial resources for these tests, but not everyone does. Ten dollars for HIV, another $20 for chlamydia and gonorrhea, $10 more for syphilis, and another $30 for herpes. This is not an affordable process. I had to weave through a series of barriers to even access STI testing.
This was not easy. As a senior, I’ve become comfortable with my sex life. Even with these financial, logistic and social limitations, I still felt comfortable accessing these services. Freshmen may see this as a barrier to accessing sexual health services. I should not have been asked to publicly explain my STI status or need for testing in the Health Center lobby. This is not only a violation of privacy but also a violation of The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) regulation.
This story is not unique to this student. We, as the Students for Reproductive Justice, feel that this experience — the lack of access to STI testing and an intimidating environment — actively deny students of their chance for sexual health.
When students feel ignored or embarrassed when accessing reproductive health care, they are less likely to do so. Health providers need to publicize that walk-in appointments for STI screenings are available in the first floor lab, no appointment or “orders called in” necessary.
When we called in to find out more information, we received a variety of responses. They did not offer any information about local clinics like Planned Parenthood or Women’s Health Specialists that serve the uninsured or underinsured. By not sharing this information, they are restricting access to a crucial component of health care. We are not arguing that these health providers are mal-intended, but rather should be better educated about the ways to promote sex positivity and knowledgeability about other local services.
This is not solely a social issue about sex positivity but also a serious health issue. What messages about sexual health is the Health Center trying to send by shaming our attempts to maintain a healthy sexual life and body?
We call for a change. We demand that health providers make STI testing more accessible. We demand that when asking about these tests we are not shamed or asked to speak about them in public spaces such as the lobby. We ask that the Health Center respect students’ rights to confidentiality.
We want the UC Davis Student Health Center to change the culture of their medical clinic and create a more inclusive, sex positive space. It is fundamental that STI testing be free. The Health Center and Love Lab should publicize where there is free, accessible STI and HIV testing and celebrate that they are making a healthier, happier student body. Ultimately, health professionals should recognize their power in creating a culture around sex — a culture that currently has the power to prevent people from being tested and therefore being safe.