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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Health Class, 2.0

"Gonorrhea": a word many of us probably haven't heard since ninth grade, and chances are haven't given a second thought since. But that vague disease, up there with chlamydia and syphilis in the pantheon of mythical ailments that everyone knows about but no one ever seems to have, is suddenly a harsh reality to at least a few Tufts students.

The Daily reported yesterday that there has been a sharp elevation in gonorrhea diagnoses among members of Tufts' gay male community, although the number of cases constituting this "outbreak" has been kept under wraps by Tufts Health Service in sensitivity to the infected.

According to Health Service Director Margaret Higham, only a small number of cases have been identified, and so far, only gay men have been diagnosed with the disease. But whether a small number means two or 20 (it's likely closer to the former), the message is clear: Gonorrhea has hit the Hill.

But while Tufts students on the whole don't resemble the slutty, sexually mutable wastrels of Camden College in Bret Easton Ellis' "Rules of Attraction," there is little reason to think that, without appropriate safeguards, gonorrhea absolutely couldn't find its way to the wider Tufts population.

As a result, sexual safety is more important than ever. No, that's not true - sexual safety is always important, especially in such a crowded and sexually-charged environment as college. What this recent "outbreak" of gonorrhea does remind us, however, is that sexual actions can have nasty consequences other than awkward mornings after, pregnancy or, in the extreme, HIV.

Few people go into a sexual encounter terrified of the risk of gonorrhea, but as recent experience proves, it's better to be safe than sorry. Gonorrhea symptoms can range from the nonexistent to the extreme, and in some cases can require hospitalization. In males, untreated gonorrhea can cause epididymitis, and in females pelvic inflammatory disease, both of which can lead to infertility. Gonorrhea is curable, but also no laughing matter.

Contrary to popular belief (or maybe it's just popular hope), unprotected oral sex, the manner through which this recent spread of gonorrhea occurred, is not 100 percent safe. Aside from gonorrhea, myriad other diseases can be contracted orally, including chlamydia, syphilis, HPV, herpes and, yes, even HIV. We all learned this in high school health class, but it's all too easy to ignore the risks.

Tufts Health Service responded adequately to the threat of gonorrhea, posting warnings around campus while also reassuring the community of the ease of treatment of a gonorrhea infection. Information on gonorrhea is readily available at Tufts Health Service at 124 Professor's Row, as well as all over the Internet. The Center for Disease Control and the American Social Health Association each have particularly informative Web sites regarding sexually transmitted infections.

Gonorrhea isn't uncommon. About 125 out of every 100,000 people in the US contract it each year, according to the CDC. But this doesn't mean that it's pleasant, safe or benign. With a little care and foresight, gonorrhea is easily preventable and doesn't have to be an epidemic at Tufts

College is a place for personal development: intellectual, social and, indeed, sexual. Sexual experimentation does not have to mean sexual recklessness, though. The recent upsurge in gonorrhea infection at Tufts should give us pause, but with the proper precautions, should not compel us to celibacy.

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