Sex is generally a subject that people tend to shy away from talking about. We get it. It’s personal, it’s awkward. But let’s face it: sex is a part of life, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Statistically, over 70 percent of college students are sexually active, so why is sex such an awkward topic to talk about?

Due to many social pressures, openness about being sexually active can come with a lot of guilt or shame attached to it, which makes people clam up when the touchy subject is brought up. Not talking about it creates a stigma that feeds into an increase in positive STI cases. A huge increase, actually — from 2011 to 2012, Ottawa County saw a considerable spike in STI cases in 18 to 24-year-olds, from 571 to 759, many of those cases representing Grand Valley State University students.

To help combat this as a community, GVSU students need to have open conversations about sexual health and get tested for STIs.

STIs are not always obvious – some people can contract them and be a carrier for months without showing any symptoms. Getting tested and knowing your status is not only a way to know your own status, but it can help you make more educated decisions with your current or future partner.

Encouraging open conversation about sex will help to remove the stigma around being tested. The more people who feel comfortable with getting tested and talking about their sexual health, the more people will be able to make educated decisions concerning their sexual health.

Sexual health is a part of your overall health and should be treated as such – when you take care of yourself, in any capacity, you’ll feel better. Knowing your status and not being afraid to ask your partner for theirs will help to open up conversations between sexual partners will decrease the worry about STIs in the future. If you’re too nervous around a potential sexual partner to talk about sex, how are you going to feel comfortable about actually having sex with that individual?

If we as students can establish an open dialogue about healthy sexual activity, we’ll see a drop in positive STI cases. In addition to talking about sex, taking the necessary steps to protect yourself from these infections is a crucial part of the process. Protection comes in many forms – from condoms to vaccines like Gardasil and everything in between. Have conversations with health care professionals to find out what kind of protection perfectly fits your needs.

GVSU has many resources for students to protect themselves and get tested. Through the Wear One campaign, there are free condoms available on campus at the Rec Center, the Campus Health Center and in the Kirkhof Center. The Women’s Center and the LGBT Resource Center are both great resources for students looking for support. The Campus Health Center offers low-cost STI tests, as does Metro Health Allendale and Planned Parenthood Grand Rapids.

By taking the step to get yourself tested, you will not only be able to screen yourself for STIs, but you will also make a statement to the people around you that sexual health is something you are comfortable discussing and something you think is important to talk about. Taking that first step to get yourself tested can help create an environment that is open and educated about sexual health.