By Christina Lambert
Sexually Transmitted Diseases are most prevalent among people ages 15 to 24, according to the World Population Foundation website.
Pamela McCullough, a pediatric nurse practitioner, decided the issue required immediate action and has been working all semester at re-starting the Sexual Health Peer Educators Program on campus.
The program highlights different sexual topics each semester.
Peer Educators are female students who have been trained by McCullough and other professionals on these topics.
These women can be identified by their pink “Ask Me About Peer Health Education” buttons, and are available to address any sexual questions or concerns that may arise.
Similar groups have existed at UMW in the past, but McCullough plans to jump start the program and make it last this time. It was started so students could educate their peers about various sexual topics.
“People go to their peers to ask about sex, not middle-aged health care providers,” said McCullough.
According to research by other peer education programs McCullough has read, groups that rely on peer interaction have shown to increase disease screening rates and condom use.
Every semester Peer Educators will learn about a different specific topic. In the past they have focused on contraceptives and female reproductive health, but this semester students are learning about the prevention and early diagnosis of Chlamydia, a Sexually Transmitted Infection that can cause infertility if left untreated.
McCullough is heading this program as part of a research study she’s conducting to earn her doctorate degree. Through the study, McCullough wanted to determine whether students learn more about STDs and STIs through the media or through face-to-face conversations with other people.
One group is learning about Chlamydia in person with an instructor while the other group watches videos online about the disease and communicates through Facebook. The same worksheets from the Center for Disease Control, which the in-person group will be using, will be posted on Facebook for others.
“The information has always been there, it’s just another way to spread it,” said McCullough.
The Facebook page is called “UMW Healthy Sex” and anyone can look it up and access the information. In fact, McCullough encourages all students to visit the page.
Before the study, participants went through a training session where they were given statistics about Chlamydia and learned how to detect and treat it, as well as information about getting tested and using condoms properly.
Once trained, the participants are set to be Peer Educators for the rest of their college career, but McCullough requires them to periodically check in with her.
Anyone can become a Sexual Health Peer Educator, but it is recommended they apply early in the semester. McCullough is available through e-mail and text messaging to make training and education sessions more convenient to fit into their schedules.
In the past, the program was face-to-face and more time consuming, but McCullough is trying to integrate technology into the study by using Facebook, text messaging and videos to reach out to students.
McCullough’s goal for the program is “to share the info that [people under 25] need to get screened every single year, and to use condoms every single time.”
“That’s the message we’re trying to get out in a nutshell: screenings and condoms. The whole idea is women’s empowerment and protecting your body,” McCullough said.