In an effort to promote safe sexual health practices, Lehigh provides free STI screenings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for about half of new STIs in the United States. Lehigh is one of many colleges and universities that offer free STI clinics.
Karen Sicinski, nursing director at the Health and Wellness Center, said STI clinics have consistently been accessible to students throughout her 30-year career at Lehigh. The screenings offer students a safe and confidential environment.
This semester, the center is offering free STI testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea — two STIs that can be asymptomatic and easily treated with antibiotics — every other Tuesday. Students can schedule their appointment via the student health portal.
Sicinski said the center has previously coordinated with St. Luke’s University Health Network or Lehigh Valley Health Network to organize the screenings each semester.
Before the pandemic, the center held evening STI clinics that would see an attendance of 60 to 100 people. However, following the resumption of clinics after the pandemic, she said this number decreased to about 50 people.
“We knew the service was needed,” Sicinksi said. “We’ve always wanted to have it more frequently. We finally said this year, ‘We can’t keep relying on partners to fund it for free. Let’s figure out a way to do it. Let’s staff it ourselves.’”
As a result, Sicinski said the center began to offer weekly testing staffed and funded by student affairs and the center.
Sicinski said the primary advantages of STI clinics are their accessibility, conditionality and low financial cost.
She said, generally, students don’t want STI screening to go on their insurance, as they want it to be more private. By offering it for free, it encompasses those concerns because there’s no bill.
Rita Jones, director of the Center for Gender Equity, said STI clinics play a crucial role on college campuses, particularly for those who are engaging in sexual activity for the first time.
She said there is a social stigma associated with STIs. To combat this, she advocates for promoting and normalizing testing and having conversations about sexual health.
“For some people, this is when they aren’t living in their biological chosen family space, and it’s the time that they’re available to assert and develop their own individual agency, and being able to have that knowledge is important,” Jones said.
Jones said discussions about STIs should be inclusive and open, respecting individual comfort levels.
If students feel hesitant about visiting an STI clinic, Jones said she suggests going with a trusted friend and keeping in mind testing is crucial for health and well-being.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Jones said. “There’s nothing to feel badly about. It’s a responsibility as a member of a community.”
Paola Magana, ‘25, is a peer health advisor. She said she encourages students to take care of themselves and utilize all of the resources Lehigh provides.
She hopes to reduce the negative associations surrounding STIs.
“There is such a stigma, even the word STI itself,” Magana said. “Especially when you’re a teenager or young adult, nobody wants to have these conversations.”
A Lehigh student who asked to remain anonymous said her experience at the free STI clinic was fast and stress-free.
“I felt really comfortable being there because the nurses didn’t judge me at all,” she said. “Getting my results back in just two days was a relief and gave me peace of mind knowing that I am free of STIs.”
She said she feared judgment from other people and was scared to tell anyone she was going but was glad she did after the fact.
The experience has made her more aware of the importance of making sure you are STI free.
“It showed me how easy it is to take care of yourself and be safe,” she said. “There’s no reason to be embarrassed or scared to get tested. It’s completely normal.”