The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every corner of healthcare, including university healthcare, and especially student sexual healthcare. “College students aren’t going to stop having sex,” says Robin Mills, Health Educator and Coordinator for the Sexual Health Education Program (SHEP) at UC Berkeley. “They need tools to engage in whatever sex is right for them. This means routine STI testing and education around preventative measures like PrEP.”
We spoke with Mills to discuss how at home self-testing — like the kind offered by Ash Wellness — can improve student sexual healthcare through COVID and beyond.
“Some students are scared to access university health services like routine STI testing because of the stigma,” says Mills. “Students at UC Berkeley come from all over the United States and the world. Many have limited knowledge about sexual health.” Students can associate STIs with dirtiness, while others fear that an STI will effectively end their sex lives. They’re reluctant to walk into a university sexual health clinic for testing. “We see sexually active students who haven’t been tested in years.”
Our solution partners with universities to offer virtual care and telemedicine services like at home self-testing to students who fear perceived judgment by peers or staff. “I’m one hundred percent for at home self-testing,” says Mills. “I want to mail kits to dorm rooms and reach students who are too nervous to visit us in person.”
In order to stay on PrEP, users need to test for HIV every three months. “At UC Berkeley, we do quarterly testing for students on PrEP,” says Mills. “It’s so important for us to connect our students to PrEP services, especially our MSM students of color.” According to Mills, some of the MSM (men who have sex with men) students incorrectly assume that contracting HIV/AIDS is inevitable. “It’s not a healthy mindset to have,” says Mills. By connecting students to at home health testing, universities make it easier for students to transition to and stay on PrEP.
At the start of the pandemic, some students were unsure about using telehealth and virtual care services. “A lot of our students went home to stay with their families,” says Mills, “so they didn’t have privacy to access services over zoom or on the phone. Now that our students have come back to campus, many of them choose telemedicine services for convenience. Half the appointments I take are over zoom.”
Using an at home STI test also helps students to become more familiar with their bodies. “It’s empowering for students to test themselves,” says Mills. “You can get STIs on more than just your genitals — in your throat, your anus. When students test at home, they have to learn exactly where to swab and take ownership of their bodies.”
We were honored to speak to Robin Mills about her experience as a university health educator at UC Berkeley. Ash Wellness is proud to offer at home self-tests that empower students to take control of their own health. Get started with us today to improve access at your university.