STI rates raise concern while CMU retired safe sex organization


Sex resources sit in a kiosk in the Volunteer Center, Bovee University Center room 106.

Central Michigan District Health Department (CMDHD) officials said sexually transmitted infections are on the rise as testing falters in the Isabella County area. Meanwhile, Central Michigan University retired a program aimed at distributing safe sex information and supplies.

“The biggest message that we can get across for Isabella County, and CMU specifically because of that high-risk population based on the age range, is regular testing and screening for HIV and STIs,” Health Promotion Supervisor at CMDHD Shelby Pasch said.

With declining levels of testing and prevention education, Pasch said that younger people are testing positive for STIs.

“We are seeing (STI) rates in the younger population, and it is scary,” Pasch said. 

Pasch said her team had to cancel three of its free HIV and STI testing clinics on campus because no one signed up, while clinics prior to the pandemic had a waiting list of up to 30 people.

Pasch partnered with campus and organization leaders to provide sexual health resources through the Safer Sex Patrol. Last year, the program was retired.

“Because they’re students on campus, they’re the true boots on the ground for CMU,” Pasch said. “So that program not being available is super unfortunate because we no longer have a leg up, we no longer have an in.”

Erica Johnson, director of the Volunteer Center, said the program was retired due to a reduction in funding and staffing.

“(The Safer Sex Patrol) was unfortunately just one of the programs we could no longer support, but we are continuing some of the efforts in different and unique ways,” she said.

Johnson said CMU still offers safe sex supplies and information on campus.

"What CMU has been proactive (about) is their fraternity, sorority or their greek life," Pasch said.

Free barrier methods and abstinence kits can be found in the Volunteer Center, Bovee University Center 106. Johnson said the center plans to collaborate with CMDHD to provide educational sessions like the Safer Sex Patrol once offered.

“We are still committed to getting educational experiences on campus for students, providing similar support in different ways,” Johnson said.

Pasch said each year, CMDHD offers a presentation about harm reduction and STI and HIV prevention. She said she hopes to destigmatize sexual health and conversations about it.

"It's uncomfortable, but we're going to get vulnerable and we're going to address it," she said.

There is also an ongoing partnership between CMDHD and CMCREW - an organization that operates on campus to support students who are battling addiction. 

In addition to partnerships, CMDHD implemented several programs aimed at preventing STIs and HIV.

One program offers safe sex supplies delivered anonymously to community members. Pasch said that the delivery program was implemented during the pandemic and has since been a popular option.

The health department operates a syringe service program where people can receive sterile injection use supplies. The goal of the program is to reduce sharing and reusing of needles to combat the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.

CMU offers STI testing via the Student Health Services clinic in Foust Hall. The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.