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UW-River Falls students have access to local services to protect sexual, reproductive health

Falcon News Service

March 1, 2016

UW-River Falls has seen a large increase in risky methods of birth control among students, according to a triennial survey most recently conducted in 2015. However, services nearby are available to help those in need of it.

The National College Health Assessment survey suggests a significant rise in the use of “withdrawal” among UWRF students questioned what they had last used to prevent pregnancy, with an increase from 24 percent in 2009 to 39 in 2015 (compared to a reported national rate of 29 in 2014). Birth control pills also appear to be less popular by about 6 percent since 2012.

The NCHA, published by the American College Health Association, surveys many colleges. Among them is UWRF, where students are given the option to take the survey every third year.

Condom use among students – specifically in vaginal intercourse – has, however, remained fairly stagnant, with 2015’s survey showing a rate of 66.2 percent among UWRF students. Meanwhile, at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, condom use has fallen from 60 to 52 percent since 2010, which has caused concern in the area. One university official even said the new numbers are the lowest in recent memory.

On the rise, on the other hand, is the use of emergency contraceptives (ECs), often referred to as the morning-after pill. EC rates have increased from 5 percent of respondents having used ECs in in the last 12 months in 2000 to 12 percent in 2015.

Students have access to services both on campus and off which offer help in various situations.

On campus, students may go to Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) in 211, Hagestad Hall. That’s where Keven Syverson works as the office’s first and only health education coordinator. In September, he will have been in the position for 15 years. SHCS serves students by covering a broad range of potential problems, from alcohol to tobacco to sexual assault and, of course, sexual health.

Covering such a variety of subjects means having to sometimes focus on certain issues more than others. “It’s hard to get everything out there for everyone to see at all times,” said Syverson. “For example,” he said, regarding a question from the NCHA which asks students if they have received information from their university about certain subjects, “if you look at sexual assault, that’s gone up [in regards to students being informed about it by UWRF]. People have received more information about that – it’s a hotter topic now.” While sexual assault and violence information at UWRF rose by about 26 percent since 2000, information on pregnancy and STI prevention have remained roughly the same since then.

Student awareness of available help is one factor which determines how much SHCS is able to work with students. “There’s only so many ways to get information out on this campus, and that’s always a challenge and always has been – how to get information out to students, and consistently,” Syverson said.

There is plenty that SHCS offers regarding reproductive health, including giving out free “sexual choices” kits, complete with condoms and information about their usage (“The biggest problem with using condoms, for them being effective, is user failure – not being put them on properly,” explained Syverson).

The kits also come with a breath mint.

SHCS will also be working to organize the UWRF Health Fair, scheduled for Wed., April 13.

On a local level is Pierce County Reproductive Health Services (PCRHS), just a short walk from the east side of campus. While SHCS paints in a broader stroke and covers a great variety of subjects, PCRHS delves deeply into a single area, as its name implies. PCRHS offers testing for pregnancy, STIs, cervical cancer and urinary tract infections among many other services related to sexual and reproductive health.

In the waiting room are magazines as well as brochures featuring stories of people with HPV and cervical cancer. On the front, it reads, “HPV & U,” and “Real-life stories of courage and hope from women like you.” In the corner is a box of toys side-by-side with a bead maze. Beyond the waiting room is a hallway leading to the offices. Attached to the wall are hundreds of condom packets split between 30 plastic pouches to sort them into different sizes and colors.

PCRHS maintains a contract with UWRF, which doesn’t have its own reproductive health office. This contract allows students with to take advantage of many services PCRHS provides at no cost. Such services include emergency contraception, testing for pregnancy and certain STDs/STIs including HIV, genital wart treatment and pap smears. Other services allow students to access them at a reduced price.

Two registered nurses, Kelsi Winter and Michelle Klechefski, who work in the offices of this building had much to say about sexual and reproductive health and safety.

Klechefski gave an example of how her job with PCRHS has been rewarding in allowing her to help others. “You get these young women, generally,” she explained, “Usually with STDs, they’re scared to death – they’ve had a partner who has told them, ‘I have chlamydia.’ They’re not always entirely sure what chlamydia is,” she said with a small laugh and a “Yep” and a nod from Winter. “So then you just say, ‘This is what it is – if you don’t treat it, it’s a big deal, but it’s very easy to treat and then it’s gone,’” she concluded. “So you feel pretty good about doing that… You kind of feel you did your good deed for the day.”

“The biggest thing is to educate yourself, look at reputable websites or just come in and talk to someone – talk to us. Use condoms,” Winter advised.

“And the morning-after pill is not a birth control method!” Klechefski added.

In 2012, the NCHA’s UWRF survey showed an unplanned pregnancy rate of 1.4 percent, consistent since the survey began in 2000. In 2015, the rate was .6 percent.