Photo courtesy of California Dept. of Public Health

Program tackles STD stigmas

Peer to Peer addresses stigmas dealing with STD's

Peer to Peer addresses nationwide increase of STD rates 

Helping to fight the cultural stigmas that surround the rise of sexually transmitted diseases and testing is the new program at Humboldt State University, Peer to Peer.

Mira Friedman, lead of health education and medical clinic support services, started Peer to Peer as her Master’s program at HSU. Friedman said she started the program because she wanted to fulfill students’ needs and offer access to reproductive services.

“There isn’t a lack of education in college but an inaccuracy in sex education,” Friedman said.

The program is unique in that students get help provided by other students. There are four medically trained students who run Peer to Peer giving consultations as well as no hassle access to STD testing and birth control. The idea is, it is easier for students to seek help from their peers.

According to St. Joseph Health, the United States hit an all-time high in sexually transmitted diseases and Humboldt County is no different. Over 2 million cases throughout the country according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health nurse of the communicable disease program at the Department of Human and Health Services (DHHS), Hava Phillips, said Humboldt county is following both the national and statewide trend of increase in STD’s. The numbers across the board are all the same and differences between populated and rural makes no difference.

“It’s something we are worried about,” Phillips said.

The most common STD is Chlamydia. Not far behind is Gonorrhea and at a far distant third is Syphilis, which can pose the greatest health risk if left untreated because it has more potential to cause damage.

According to Humboldt County Public Health syphilis in Humboldt county is up 172 percent. There have also been 665 reported cases of Chlamydia in Humboldt in 2017.

According to the California Department of Public Health 218,728 cases of Chlamydia cases were reported in 2017 statewide. Over half of them were younger than the age of 25. Gonorrhea amounted to 75,372 cases with 33 percent younger than 25. Both diseases were the highest since the numbers began to get reported. Syphilis cases reached 13,719. This has been the highest since 1987.

“Stigmas contribute discomfort for people to get tested,” Phillips said.

The cultural stigmas surrounding STD’s and getting tested create extra dilemmas for people seeking services. Phillips said there is a huge need for educating people to get tested for STD’s and to treat it like anything else. Anyone sexually active is at risk of getting an STD just like someone breathing is at risk of getting the flu.

“They need to be just another normal thing you get tested for,” Phillips said.

There are lots of theories as to why there is an increase, but nothing concrete. The highest risks are unprotected sexual activity, individual anonymous sex and sex with multiple partners.

Celene Lopez worked as a peer educator as an undergrad with Planned Parenthood before returning to HSU to earn her masters in counseling psychology. She knows the challenges posed on people who aren’t seeking help. On college campuses information is everywhere but in the general public it’s harder to be reminded.

“Lots of people think they’ll just know if they have contracted an STD or not, and really they don’t know,” Lopez said, “the most common symptom is no symptom.”

Both Chlamydia and Gonorrhea usually have no symptoms. People who have contracted these diseases go untreated and in turn spread them to more people. Lopez believes the increase of STD’s is because of services lacking education as well as lacking health care.

“People don’t know where to go, they don’t know where to get help,” Lopez said.

Lopez is also well aware of the cultural stigmas that surround STD’s which makes it difficult for people to feel comfortable enough to get tested. To combat these stigmas Lopez suggests creating safe environments for people to get confidential health care, like what Peer to Peer is doing.

“We need to change the culture of sexual health,” Lopez said.

This includes the demonizing of people for having sex and to show people there is no judgments. Easy access to resources, like Peer to Peer, helps minimize long waiting periods of being seen by health services and allows doctors to see patients who have symptoms.

Lopez compares STD’s to the flu, we don’t shame people for getting the flu yet when it comes to STD’s people are shamed all the time.

“People don’t know what to expect. They feel the stigma, they feel dirty, but we’re here because we care. No one is here to judge,” Lopez said.

For questions or to book an appointment Peer Health Educators can be reached at 707-826-3146 or

The Clinical Peer Health Educators office is located in RWC 127.



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