Public health officials on P.E.I. would like to see more people getting tested for sexually-transmitted infections, and especially more men.
Dr. David Reid sees a lot of young people in his office at the UPEI Student Health Centre for various health reasons, and most of them are young women.
"If you look at our statistics for the health centre at UPEI, there are weeks that I might see one male, and 24 or 25 females in a morning," said Reid.
"It's not always that bad, but I guess on average about 80 to 90 per cent of the students I see are female."
Just having more women come in the door leads to more women getting tested for STIs, and the nature of those visits also increases the likelihood of those tests getting done.
Dr. Chris Hoffman runs a part time Women's Clinic in Charlottetown. Many women don't show any symptoms when they have an STI, but they are detected when women come for something else.
"The vast majority are in fact coming for their regular pap [test] and [birth control] pills and this was kind of an add on that wasn't really their initial concern. But that's how we're finding lots of these cases," said Hoffman.
The lack of need for pap tests and birth control pills makes it easier for men to avoid entirely discussing sexual health with their doctors. There is also a perception, now outdated, that testing for STIs can be an uncomfortable experience for men.
"I'm old enough to have worked in a sexual health clinic in Ottawa where we did the famous Q-tip in the opening of the penis test," said Jocelyne Maurice, a nurse at Moncton's Sexual Health Centre.
"That was a deal breaker for some men to come in for testing."
With advances in testing technology that swab test is no longer necessary. Men can now be checked with urine and blood tests, and a quick visual inspection.
"That for me has really changed the kind of work that we do," said Maurice.
But those are not the only reasons people believe men are less likely to be tested.
"It's a pride thing. Men, they don't have the courage to do it," said Holland College student Richard Lush.
"They think 'Oh, it'll be fine. Nothing's wrong.' But in some cases it's not the case at all."
Reid said he has encountered that attitude at the UPEI Health Centre.
"A lot of young males see themselves as invincible. They don't seem to think anything can happen to them," said Reid.
Some STI symptoms
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Discharge from genitals
- Genital sores
- Pain in lower abdomen
Late last year UPEI student council member Jeff MacDougald took it on himself to try to change those attitudes, and convinced 25 fellow students to get tested.
"The biggest reason you should go and get checked is just because you owe it to your women counterparts," said MacDougald.
"While you may not present symptoms you are essentially a carrier for the disease and you could be giving it to them, and that can render them infertile."
Health officials recommend anyone displaying symptoms should be tested, and everyone should get tested before starting relations with a new sexual partner.