By Theresa Soya
Professor Jessica L. Barnack-Tavlaris opened last Tuesday’s politics forum by asking about what makes it difficult for people to maintain good sexual health. One student responded, “Sex is kind of taboo. People don’t really want to talk about it.”
A classroom filled past capacity with students, eager to hear the “Women’s Beliefs About Reproductive and Sexual Health” presentation, begged to differ.
Barnack-Tavlaris, who received her Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin and is currently a psychology professor at the College, hosted the forum that proved to be much more than just another lecture on sex.
“Women need more information,” Barnack-Tavlaris said.
Barnack-Tavlaris began by addressing some common myths about sexual health to provide some accurate information on the topic, as she joked, “Googling ‘sex’ isn’t always very successful.”
She explained that sexually transmitted infections can often be present without symptoms, meaning that they are easy to spread without warning. Some can be transmitted merely by skin-to-skin contact. STIs, once cured, can certainly be caught again, and partners should have themselves checked by physicians regularly.
She continued to highlight that the most commonly sexually transmitted infection is Human Papaloma Virus, or HPV. It is an infection, which, in most cases, will resolve itself in less than two years without causing symptoms. However, in other cases, it can cause genital warts, and in the worst cases, cervical cancer, which can be fatal.
Barnack-Tavlaris then detailed the four types of primary and secondary prevention, vital to maintaining good sexual health: abstinence and safe sex, the HPV vaccination, STI testing and a Pap smear test. She additionally stressed that STI testing and Pap smears are two different examinations, and that a Pap smear will test for cervical cancer, but not test for other infections. According to her studies, 75.6 percent of women surveyed falsely believed that Pap smears test for STIs.
“I was extremely surprised how many women didn’t know about a Pap smear and its purpose,” she also said that the statistics left her worried about how many girls “had such misperceptions and distorted views of their sexual health,” said Lauren Cordero, a sophomore psychology major.
Barnack-Tavlaris relayed that her main concern grew out of the research study she conducted, where 45 percent of the women she surveyed who were sexually active were not tested for STIs. She encourages women to be proactive about getting regularly tested and unafraid of pursuing good sexual health.
The importance of this knowledge, Barnack-Tavlaris explained, lies in that sexual health is important to one’s overall physical and psychological well-being.
Meghan Doherty, a junior psychology major who attended the forum, said that the talk cleared up several misconceptions for her. “You just have to protect yourself,” she said.