Navigating sexual and reproductive health at NU.
When sex for Molly* began to feel painful, she wanted to figure out what was wrong, so she made an appointment with Northwestern Health Service in Searle Hall to get it checked out. They tested her for a yeast infection, and told her they would call with the results. Instead, they called her mom, who didn’t know she was sexually active.
Luckily, the call only said her test results were ready, and Molly talked her way out of the situation. She was still “pretty mad,” though, and has not returned to Northwestern Health Service for a sexual health-related issue since.
Northwestern Health Service tends to be the most convenient resource students have for sexual health in Evanston; other clinics can feel inaccessible. The nearest Howard Brown Health center is about 5 miles away, (a 40-minute train ride), and the nearest Planned Parenthood is farther still, on the southern end of Rogers Park. Students may also seek out Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Evanston for one-time help, but not necessarily long- term sexual health care. Yet care at Searle requires an appointment and can be pricey. Sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing for any one disease can run up to $60, depending on insurance and the disease for which a student is tested.
Dr. Robert Palinkas, the Executive Director of the Health Service on the Evanston campus, emphasized the importance of offering sexual health resources on campus. Testing for STIs, as well as HIV and pregnancy prevention, are some of the most common reasons students seek out care.
“We work hard to be nonjudgmental, empathetic, affirmative and knowledgeable about resources,” Palinkas wrote in an email.
Though second-year Nina Kritikos was disappointed that she had to pay $30 for STI testing at Searle, she felt the experience was fine.
“The doctor went through almost a half hour describing all the different diseases and all the different symptoms,” Kritikos says. “They were really going through everything and trying to get me to understand it and be comfortable, which was good.”
For students who can’t afford to pay for testing or don’t wish to make an appointment with Searle, Howard Brown Health Center offers free STI and HIV testing at the Evanston Public Library on the second Monday of each month.
The Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE), a student volunteer group aimed at encouraging health sexual behavior and relationships, also hosted free testing on campus this quarter through the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“We’re excited about it,” says Sam Berston, the director of SHAPE. “It’s pretty rare that there’s free STI screening on campus. Since I’ve been at Northwestern, I don’t think I’ve heard of any happening.”
SHAPE also hosts the “G-Spot” on Fridays in Norris, where two SHAPE members set up a table (or a gazebo, if the weather is nice) to answer questions and give out condoms, lubricant and informational pamphlets. Berston says a lot of people come, take items and occasionally ask questions. All of these events take place informally through SHAPE’s capacity as a student organization, with little collaboration with the University. The only formal event is a True Northwestern Dialogue during Wildcat Welcome.
Another student, Brooke*, also stopped seeking out sexual health care through Northwestern Health Service after an uncomfortable experience at a consultation appointment for an intrauterine device (IUD). She was told she didn’t need one because she had a long-distance boyfriend. After getting one over the summer, she returned to Searle for a check-up and felt similarly uneasy. Despite those incidents, she still goes to Searle for more general things, like when she’s feeling sick.
“I had a lot of issues last year. I was constantly sick. They were always super understanding whenever I went for that,” Brooke says. “But every time I’ve gone in for sexual health, I’ve had such weird and uncomfortable experiences.”
Molly ended up having more success with off- campus sexual health resources. She went to the urgent care in Evanston for a urinary tract infection when Searle was closed and found it to be a good alternative. She also went to Planned Parenthood for contraceptive care, which she used to get through Northwestern Health Service.
Molly says she found Planned Parenthood of Illinois on her own, and participated in its Access Birth Control (ABC) initiative. The program provides free birth control to patients with problems with insurance, payment or confidentiality. While sexual health care can be uncomfortable by nature, she says, Planned Parenthood went to the extra lengths to make sure she was okay at every step. She may have had to go a little further to get the care she wanted, but it was worth it when she did.
*Names changed to protect students’ privacy.
SEXUAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Evanston –
1704 Maple Ave Suite 100 – (312) 694-2273
Howard Brown Health Clark – 6500 N Clark St – (773) 388-1600
Evanston Public Library – 1703 Orrington Ave – (847) 448-8600
Planned Parenthood – Rogers Park Health Center – 5725 N
Broadway – (773) 942-7193