These words do not bring up a pleasant feeling for most. For many, there are countless hurdles in cost, stigma, and availability to getting STD testing done. It can be a nerve-wracking experience, to say the least. Poor sex education combined with local and national social stigmas can keep even the most willing of us ignorant to, and away from, the resources available to us. Thus, ignorance along with disease can (and often does) spread. Louisiana ranks as one of the worst states when it comes to sex education, teen pregnancy, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (particularly HIV). According to the Louisiana Department of Health, not only is there an HIV “epidemic” in Louisiana but “one of two young people will contract a sexually transmitted disease by the age of twenty-five and most will not know it.” Not only does Louisiana boast an alarmingly high rate (roughly 50 percent) of folks contracting sexually transmitted diseases by the age of twenty-five, but due to the hurdles presented to getting tested, most of these folks won’t even know that they’re carrying and often spreading these very diseases.
But there is hope! There are local groups that work to make STD testing and sex education more accessible to the people.
The first and foremost barrier to getting STD testing done is cost. The cost of getting tested keeps many people from even bothering to do so, especially if they aren’t showing symptoms. I, myself, am a prime example. I spent my formative years coming up in a private, Catholic high-school environment that stringently relied on abstinence-only education. For instance, when I asked my teacher in Freshman year health class, “Coach when are we going to learn about condoms and birth control?” His response was simple and frustrating. “Nolan, this is a Catholic school. We don’t talk about those things.” This was around the same time that Pope Benedict publicly declared that condoms were a worse evil than AIDS. The thought of getting tested was something that caused a great deal of anxiety, shame, and fear in me. When I was twenty years old, I was a Sophomore at Loyola University New Orleans. I had become sexually active while in school and had never been tested for STDs before. I wasn’t displaying any symptoms in particular, but I was a bit of a hypochondriac, truly I still am. I decided to bite the bullet and get tested.
Overcoming my own reservations, shame, and anxieties in order to walk into Student Health at Loyola that spring of 2010 was hard enough. The response I was met with upon asking about STD testing was even worse. The nurse told me that STD testing was not included in my tuition, but I could get a basic four-panel STD test for $200. A four-panel test checks an individual for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, and HIV. It would cost more to test for Herpes and Hepatitis C. As a poor college student, I did not have access to $200. This was not a problem for the university, in that they would be happy to add the STD tests to the bill that would be mailed to my parents at the end of the semester. Having that on paper in front of my folks was not something I was looking to do, so I went back to my dorm and hoped for the best. This, of course, was eight years ago, and there is a chance that Loyola has since changed their policy in regards to including STD testing for students in their tuition. I do know that they still do not supply condoms to students. Just a few hundred yards away, Tulane University does include STD testing in their tuition. They also supply students with complimentary condoms.
After a few more weeks of not getting tested, my hypochondria got the best of me and forced me onto my computer to do some research. I found that the Delgado Personal Health Clinic offered STD testing for the nominal charge of $10. I swallowed my anxiety and got on the streetcar one afternoon and went to the French Quarter, where at 517 N. Rampart Street I was able to get a six-panel STD test for only $10. This six-panel test included all of the STDs I mentioned above. Although I had to wait a few hours and spend much of my day at the clinic in order to be seen, it was well worth it. They were able to give me my HIV test results before I left, and I received my other results within about a week. This clinic still stands at the same location and offers services for a nominal fee and does not require health insurance.
I have since returned to the Delgado Personal Health Clinic for testing on a few different occasions. I’ve also found that depending on the health insurance I’ve had, different medical practices had reasonable prices. But for the purpose of this piece, I’ll focus on STD testing for those who have no health insurance. Another, somewhat reasonably priced and accessible group from whom to get STD testing (as well as a host of other health services) is Planned Parenthood. With their newer, convenient location at 4636 S. Claiborne Ave., Planned Parenthood is not only accessible for much of the city in their location, but they are also reasonably priced for those without health insurance (and they do take a wide range of insurance plans as well). The cost of a basic four-panel test is $137 (it would cost more to get six panels). I found that it was easy to get a Planned Parenthood representative on the phone with only a few minutes of being on hold. She was knowledgeable and able to answer all of my questions about cost and detail quickly. Like Delgado’s clinic, the HIV test results would be given to the patient before leaving the clinic, but the other STD results would take 7 to 10 days to be available.
The Louisiana Department of Health is an important resource for STD testing as well as a host of other health-related information. They offer free STD testing at various sites a few days a year. Earlier this year (mid-April to be exact), they did offer free STD testing in New Orleans. HIV testing has come a long way in its accessibility in this city. The New Orleans based No Aids Task Force has played an important role in providing free (or nominally priced) HIV testing throughout the city.
The final group I will mention is perhaps one of the most well known in the city. Rapidly growing in its structure, popularity, and necessity, Crescent Care has many different locations throughout the city that offer rapid HIV testing (HIV testing with quick results rather than a long wait for results). The location that does testing for all other STDs is located at 3308 Tulane Ave. I called and left messages twice. Once early in October, and again about three days prior to writing this article in order to inquire about the pricing of said tests. I did not get a call back despite the group’s website suggesting that an appointment is preferred. Walk-ins are accepted, but they are not the only accepted form of receiving patients (unlike Delgado’s clinic). Per their website, Crescent Care offers STD testing from 7:30 A.M. to 4 P.M. on weekdays. They also offer testing on a sliding scale for those without health insurance. Along with these STD testing resources, Crescent Care offers many other health services including Behavioral Health Services. Thankfully, there are many groups, of which the above listed are only a few, that do so much for our city in terms of making sexual healthcare more accessible through cost.
Breaking down the stigmas surrounding STD testing is another hugely important area in which there have been great strides within this city, but there are still more to be made. Along with breaking down the cost barrier, Planned Parenthood, the No Aids Task Force, and Crescent Care do a great deal through their campaigns to break down the stigma of getting tested. Most of these campaigns are geared toward breaking down the stigma surrounding HIV testing, but great strides remain to be taken towards de-stigmatizing STD testing in general.
In this piece, I am bound to have missed a number of resources in the city that offers affordable STD testing, as well as groups that are actively helping to break down the stigmas surrounding such testing. Please feel free to drop some information in the comments section below, both about groups/locations that you know of that offer STD testing at reasonable prices and organizations that are working locally to break down the stigmas surrounding getting tested!
Nolan Storey has lived in New Orleans for 10 years. He fell in love with this city as he received his bachelors in English from Loyola University New Orleans in 2012. Since then, he has gone on to publish three books, including two books of poetry. You can read more of his work here.