Keeping it safe

Students can obtain free contraceptives, including condoms, at the Wellness Center located inside the 
Marshall Student Center. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

One of the frequently asked questions from parents at orientations is what kind of sexual health services do USF offer for students.

That’s a big change from years past, said Diane Zanto, director of Student Health Services (SHS) at USF. She said there’s an increased acceptance, openness and desire to have those resources available for their students at the university.

With people aged 13-24 making up approximately 22 percent of those newly diagnosed with HIV in 2014 according to the CDC, this concern over sexual health services is a natural response.

Between SHS and the Center for Student Well-Being, students can access a wide variety of sexual health services, covering everything from screenings for sexual transmitted infections (STIs) to free contraceptives.

Director for the Center for Student Well-Being, Jennifer DiPrete, said the Center partners with SHS on “Get Yourself Tested” to provide information during high-risk times for STI prevention.

“We try to look at periods within the school year where students might be at a higher risk, including Spring Break, and so we try to emphasize prevention in terms of high-risk sexual behaviors,” DiPrete said. 

From the SHS side of things, the services are about prevention, treatment and providing medications.

Sexual Health and Gynecology offers routine gynecologic exams, as well as services related to STI screenings and treatment, according to Tricia Trow-Weaver, P.A. and assistant director of Sexual Health and Gynecology at USF. 

Trow-Weaver said the department is friendly to the LGBT community as well, providing confidential care. Zanto said Dr. Joseph Puccio at SHS offers hormonal therapy for transgender students who are transitioning. 

SHS also provides PrEP, a preventative medication for those who are potentially exposed to HIV. Trow-Weaver said the PrEP medication is also offered through SHS for post-exposure to STIs. Trow-Weaver said one particular service coming next month is free STI testing, which will be on March 29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Zanto said this event usually sees anywhere from 200 to 300 students, so Zanto encourages students to come early.

Students can also get IUDs, prescriptions for oral contraceptives and the Depo-Provera birth control vaccine at a reduced price, according to Trow-Weaver.

Robert Law, business manager for Bulls Country Pharmacy, said the pharmacy offers birth control to students without insurance for $10 to $250, depending on whether it is brand name or generic. The average cost, he said, is about $10 to $25. 

Law said the pharmacy works with students to try to get them the lowest prices possible. The pharmacy currently sells pregnancy tests, which can run as much as $25 at drugstores like Walgreens of CVS, for less than $10 for both brands the pharmacy carries. 

The pharmacy also carries a brand of emergency contraceptive for $29.99 compared to upwards of $50 at a typical drug store.

From the Center’s side of sexual health, the focus is more on education, prevention and awareness. DiPrete said the Center offers the REACH peer education program, which provides presentations to educate students on how to prevent STIs. The Center’s Healthy Monday education sessions also sometimes focus on STIs. 

“We have a presentation called Safer Sex Party where there’s peer-to-peer interaction on how to appropriately use condoms, male condoms and other forms of contraception,” DiPrete said, adding that this program is heavily requested, particularly in residence halls.

Courtney Becker, assistant director for the Center, said it offers a wide variety of free resources for students to take. There are lubricated condoms, non-lubricated condoms, non-latex condoms, lubrication packets, internal (female) condoms and dental dams. 

Becker said there are also special programs offered to specific populations for specific health needs.

At the Wellness Center in the Marshall Student Center, students can pick up free condoms at a maximum of two per day. Anthony Inman, administrative assistant for the Center, said an average of 40-50 condoms are taken each day from the Center. 

“We just keep it stocked so people can take what they need,” Inman said.

All of the services offered by the Center are free for students. 

As for the importance of their services, DiPrete said both the Center and SHS are in the business of disease prevention. Trow-Weaver said those in Sexual Health and Gynecology have the opportunity to educate and intervene in the lives of their patients as they get to know them through regular visits and questions they ask.

“All three of us that are there full time feel like we’re mentors, and especially with our young female patients, they’ll start off as freshman, and a lot of times we’ll continue to see them through graduate school, which is an awesome experience to see their evolution into adulthood …” Trow-Weaver said.

As for a possible stigma, Becker said the Wellness Center works hard to create a comfortable environment for students.

“We work really hard in making that an inclusive and safe space for students, so that there isn’t a sense of stigma or fear in keeping up their supplies and resources that the students need,” Becker said.

There are also laws that keep students’ records private and there are ways to avoid STI testing showing up on their insurance bill if they don’t want their parents to see, according to Zanto.