STD rates and forcible sex crimes on college campuses have risen dramatically over the last few decades. STD rates have increased by 50% between 2000 and 2014,1 while forcible sex crimes on colleges campuses have more than doubled in roughly the same timeframe (2001 to 2013).2 A 2015 survey of 150,000 students from 27 universities–including 7 Ivies–found that 27.2 percent of senior college women had been the victim of sexual assault since entering college.3 These sobering statistics left us with more questions than answers, so we set out to discover a better understanding of the current state of sexual health in higher education today.
Since 1984, the landscape of STD rates has changed for the worse. Though gonorrhea and syphilis rates have dropped by 70 and 32 percent respectively since 1984, chlamydia has increased by an astounding 6,917 percent over the same timespan. And all three have steadily increased in frequency since 2009. Gonorrhea and chlamydia rates experienced large decreases and increases respectively, while syphilis rates largely decreased. It seems at first glance that the landscape of STD rates has changed for the worse. However, some argue that this CDC data is misleading. They claim that increased numbers year-to-year are partially due to more people getting tested. This explanation is certainly more reassuring, however, it’s hard to believe that more frequent testing is largely responsible for the nearly 7,000 percent increase in chlamydia infections over the last 30 years. To learn more, we decided to explore chlamydia in more detail.1
Looking into how chlamydia rates vary between age groups (and gender), we see that the majority of cases occur between three age groups: 15-19, 20-24, and 25-29 (with 20 to 24 year-olds being most affected). These three age groups made up 83.8 percent of all chlamydia cases in the U.S. in 2014. While gonorrhea and syphilis (73.9 and 49.5 percent of all cases for those aged 15-29, respectively) display similar age distribution curves, chlamydia is the STD that’s most disproportionately concentrated in youths and young adults.1
A study published by in 2013 by the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of internet users searched for health information online in the 12 months prior to the study.4 They also found that medical inquiries were the third most popular online pursuit, following only email and search engine usage.5 The same study also showed that more than 74 percent of all millennials (age 18-34) look for health information online. Considering these findings, we took to Google Trends for insights into how people search for STDs.
The graph above shows the Google Trends results for Health-related searches in the U.S. between July 2015 and June 2016 containing the phrase, “chlamydia symptoms.” On initial examination we notice two primary peaks, one in mid-January (the highest) and another in late September (the second highest). Without context, the these peaks might not look like anything significant. However, when viewed in conjunction with the collegiate academic calendar, trends begin to emerge.
The first chronological peak begins rising in late August before reaching its highest point in late September. We attribute the initial rise to the start of Fall term at semester colleges. The highest point of the peak doesn’t come until late September when the total number of students on campuses around the nation is compounded by the start of colleges on the quarter system. After reaching this conclusion, we reason that the highest peak occurs in mid-January as a result of students from both semester and quarter colleges returning to school around the same time, following Christmas break.
Other than the two largest peaks, there are four others that stand out. An inspection of the dates of these peaks reveal that all these peaks closely correspond with major holidays and breaks (Thanksgiving, New Years, Spring Break, and Memorial Day) which happen to be one of or occur during the four longest breaks at most colleges and universities. This suggests that chlamydia rates rise around holiday breaks when college students have less academic responsibilities and more time to socialize.
Seeing this correlation, we decided to explore specific colleges in depth. However, before delving too deeply, we wanted to reach a better understanding of how STD rates change geographically.
The continuous belt of orange from North Carolina to Arkansas and Louisiana signals that the highest STD rates in the nation is in the Deep South. While the Deep South has the worst of it, the rest of the South isn’t much better off. We see high STD rates continuing west from Louisiana to Southern California. The regions with the lowest STD rates include the Northeast, Northwest, and central states from Nevada to Nebraska.
As colleges don’t reveal the STD rates of their student bodies, we couldn’t simply see which schools have the best and worst infection rates. So, we decided to score each university on our list in several categories, to arrive at a “sexual health” rating. Below are the indicators we used to judge the colleges. Each score was weighted and later converted to a 10-point scale.
- 2014 County STD Rate
- Average Annual Campus Sexual Assault Rate
- Campus Sexual Health and Education Resources
- Contraceptive Availability
- Condom Availability
- STD Testing Options
- Sexual Assault Services and Resources
- Hours of Operation
- Web Content Quality
Above is the list of the ten most sexually healthy colleges in the U.S. Looking through the list, you’ll notice that all each college in the top ten scored well below or around the average for STD rates and campus sexual assaults. The top two schools, Oregon State University (1st) and Boise State University (2nd), both hail from the Northwest (one of the regions that we saw had the lowest STD rates in the previous section). Florida Atlantic University comes in third and is the only school in the top ten from the Southeast. Other trends we see in the top ten include: both major state universities in Colorado, Colorado State University (5th) and University of Colorado (9th); and two Northeastern universities, Rutgers (6th) and University of Connecticut (8th).
Below are the ten colleges and universities that scored lowest on our list. At the top of the list by a wide margin is the Milwaukee-based, Marquette University. The primary trend we noticed is greater the proportion of Southern schools at the bottom. Only Marquette University, University of Notre Dame, and University of Pennsylvania come from other regions.