In Pipe Dream’s sex survey, nearly 95 percent of responders said they’d never had an STD — a number that, on the surface, was very impressive. But when juxtaposed with 50 percent of responders admitting to never having been tested in the first place, that 95 percent doesn’t look so good. It’s very hard to be sure you’re clean without the lab results to prove it. And the reality is that too many people are skipping a condom ‘just this once’ or forgetting that if it breaks, a baby isn’t the only risk at hand. But instead of giving an awkward health-teacher-style lecture, we thought we’d put our money where our mouths are. We went out and got tested in the area so that when the time comes — and we recommend that it does for everyone — the options are clear.
Decker Student Health Services Center
4400 Vestal Parkway East
Vestal, NY 13902
Decker has gotten a bad reputation over the years. Many say they’ve experienced some sort of judgment, especially when heading over to pick up Plan B or answering questions about their sexual history. With this in mind, when I walked into Decker, I was feeling a little uneasy. But luckily, that soon dissipated.
When students arrive, they check in by swiping a student ID at a computer station, and then answer a questionnaire. I made an appointment for testing in advance, so there was a digital form that asked about sexual health and history. I then waited no more than five minutes before being called in. The nurse who greeted me was extremely nice, and brought me to an exam room to take my vitals and then helped me provide the appropriate insurance information. At Decker, HIV testing is free but STD testing requires an additional payment outside of the student health fee, which many students don’t realize. If you don’t have insurance or come without your plan information, you’ll face a hefty fee. So if you’re heading to Decker for an STD test, make sure to have your insurance card ready.
Next, we reviewed my answers from check-in. She seemed genuinely concerned when clarifying that I was not experiencing any symptoms, and offered information about pap smears and birth control options for the sake of comprehension. When learning that I wasn’t using a hormone-based birth control method, her concern turned momentarily to unwelcomed disapproval. But she did not push the issue and directed me toward the only bathroom, which was gender neutral. There was a little silver cabinet inside to leave urine samples to save any embarrassment. I returned to the exam room where I was then told about the results process. The lab would take about a day to process, and then my results would be sent to me through a confidential message on Decker’s patient portal. The nurse was reassuring, saying that if anything was positive, students just come in for a follow-up right away, and that treatment is simple. She was lighthearted, saying that there was nothing to worry about since Binghamton University “is a college campus, so [they] see everything and are used to everything. If something comes up, it’s no big deal.” After asking one last time whether I had any other concerns or needs, I was good to go. The entire process took 25 minutes from entrance to exit; with everyone being so kind and genuine, I could almost have called my visit pleasant.
UHS Walk-In, Vestal
4417 Vestal Parkway East
Vestal, NY 13902
I’d never been to UHS before, which I suppose I’ll count as a blessing, especially as a senior. But going into the enormous hospital that is United Health Services Vestal was a little intimidating, as I’ve only gotten tested at smaller clinics before. The experience overall was what I would expect from a large facility — calm, cool, collected and impersonal. Which, all things considered, is great.
I went up to their walk-in desk and signed in, providing the receptionist with my information and insurance. I waited almost to the minute the amount of time they estimated it would take — 20 to 30 minutes — which was little less than the real-time wait listed on their walk-in website. A perfectly nice nurse led me into a maze of clean examination rooms and weighed me, took my blood pressure, asked me a few questions about why I decided to come and was overall professional and non-judgemental, something I’ve come to value in the sexual health field. There was a striking lack of inquiry about my sexual history compared to what I’ve experienced in the past, with little attention paid to how many partners I’ve had, if I had a long-term partner and my protection and contraception habits. Questions were limited to whether or not I’d noticed any symptoms, or if anything had changed drastically in my sex life, which was quietly noted on a pad with little comment. After a first nurse drew blood for an HIV test, a nurse practitioner came in to conduct the swab. With a curt hello and a smile, she instructed me to undress for the exam and left. The exam itself was quick, with both nurses asking me at different points whether or not I was comfortable; after it was done and I had gotten dressed, a nurse came back in with paperwork. She told me to call in two days if I hadn’t heard from them yet and to have a lovely day.
Family Planning of South Central New York Binghamton
117 Hawley Street
Binghamton, NY 13901
Family Planning advertises its facility as respectful to all beliefs and supportive of an individual’s freedom of choice, and this was clear in any and every way they provided services. The front desk sign-in sheet asked for my first initial only for confidentiality, and I was called up to the receptionist by that letter. I sheepishly offered up my printout of an insurance card, admitting to being unsure of my coverage type, but was immediately warmly informed that they take almost all health care plans. While I sat and waited to be seen, I was given a packet full of birth control and sexual health information, with pamphlets that explained multiple contraception options, tips for safe sex and literature on pregnancy and gender identity.
A nurse called me in about five minutes later, and took me to an exam room to ask me a series of questions and take my vitals. The entire facility, from what I could see, was extremely clean. She stumbled in the beginning, getting tripped up asking for basic information and having to check my blood pressure three times, but then apologized for it being her first day. A second nurse came in and took over the questioning; making sure that the correct information was being gathered while simultaneously training the new nurse. The questions soon became awkward and personal, but the nurses made every effort to assure a judgment-free zone and joked with me whenever I looked uncomfortable. After finishing, they gave me a cup for a urine sample and pointed me toward the bathroom. The restroom was spotless and had a cabinet inside for people to leave their cups to be picked up later. I then was directed into a different room for an exam. I waited for a few minutes, texting to pass the time, but the woman who conducted the exam came in and snapped at me to stop upon entrance. I apologized, taken aback, and she warmed up immediately. The exam was quick, she assured me that nothing was wrong the entire time, and said that if I didn’t hear from them in a few days I should assume all results were negative. She then pointed me toward the checkout desk, where I was provided with condoms and a Plan B One Step free of charge. The entire process took about an hour — from arrival to departure — and was as pleasant and painless as possible.
Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP) – Broome County Prevention Point Office
277 Main Street
Johnson City, NY 13790
As far as STD clinics go, STAP is a diamond in the rough. The Johnson City office is clean, there is an abundance of resources available and the staff is patient. Walking in, I was greeted by calm employees, which is a plus if you are anxious about some “positive” results. As I was waiting to be helped, I had the opportunity to look through various informative flyers, and there were boxes of both male and female condoms ready for the taking and free of charge.
I walked into the exam room, where a woman asked me a series of questions and assessed my risk factors. The woman calmly explained to me the information I would have needed to know, and informed me about all the resources that they have to offer. She attempted to make uncomfortable questions less so, and was even conscientious enough to ask which was my dominant hand, so she could prick the other one and save me any hassles in writing. Additionally, this place is perfect for those who value confidentiality above all. While you did have to give information such as name and address, there was no need to give any insurance specifics, so if you are on your parents’ plan there is no possibility of an awkward phone call after they hear from their insurance company. Another plus about this place was the timeliness. Perhaps it was just because I went at almost 10 a.m., but the wait was not long and the testing itself was quick as well.
Especially if you live on the West Side or in Johnson City, this place is a go-to, because it is close by. But that being said, it’s still an area that is unfamiliar to many students, so make sure to go here with a friend.