Credit: Gabriella Snow | Courtesy

Cal Poly students are researching students’ perceptions around Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) – exposing a lack of awareness and knowledge about reproductive health on campus. 

The Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Lab is a research lab focused on sexual and reproductive health issues that affect women, with a specific goal of working with women of color because of significant data that shows women of color are often underrepresented in this area of study. Their research projects can focus on sexual activity, sexual dysfunction, contraception, sexual health decisions, menstruation and conception, according to the lab’s website. 

The research project comes amid high rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea on campus, according to the lab’s founder, Joni Roberts. Cal Poly has been seen as a factor in county-wide increases in STIs in recent years. 

Roberts is part of the Kinesiology and Public Health Department at Cal Poly as well as faculty in residence. Roberts helps students engage in sexual health research through the lab.

“What’s their knowledge? How do they approach sex, especially given our high rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea on campus?” are questions this project is seeking to answer, Roberts said. 

The current project is a continuation of a project started last year by the SRH lab in collaboration with PULSE. PULSE is a collaborative part of Campus Health & Wellbeing that promotes healthy lifestyle management. 

“Clean status” is a phenomenon surrounding what it means to be clean in regards to STIs. The project last year revealed that both men and women, when asked about testing, would answer that they would ask the question, “are you clean?” to their sexual partner. 

“When [we] asked further, ‘Well, do you verify that?’ most times, people said ‘no,’” Roberts said.

The study found that people trust that their partner is telling the truth about whether they are clean or not. However, a disparity arose among genders, according to Dr. Roberts. 

“Women identifying folk tended to say that they inquired whether or not someone was clean and they also got tested,” Roberts said. “Male identifying folk inquired, but didn’t get tested.”

The different definitions of what it means to be “clean” can lead to confusion, misinformation and doubt over what is true when it comes to condom usage and STIs. 

The student team, including public health sophomore Gabriella Snow, is currently conducting qualitative, one-on-one interviews with students. 

“I’ve been kind of analyzing where they’re getting this information from and it’s been super interesting,” Snow said. “There’s just a lot of misinformation and honestly, just a general lack of awareness of a lot of these topics for a variety of reasons.” 

Snow said the project is important because it is analyzing the roots of what these ideas are, where they are coming from and figuring out how to use that information to best disseminate information that is well received and understood by the student population. 

Other members of the SRH lab include public health freshman Anusha Sampath, biological sciences junior Alexa Asson and public health sophomore Kate Higashi. 

To get involved in the STI “clean status” interviews, sign up for an interview time slot. Students who participate in the project “will receive a sexual health goodie bag, plus the opportunity to share their valuable insights and opinions,” according to an SRH Instagram post. 
Follow the Sexual and Reproductive Health Lab on their Instagram for more information and updates regarding the STI “clean status” project and other projects, or visit their Cal Poly website.

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