Whitney Cummings can now add “champion for sexual health” to her resume.
The comedian and actress partnered with the American Sexual Health Association for their “Yes Means Test” campaign to debunk the stigma around talking about and getting screened for STDs — and for her, it’s personal.
“People think I’m confident because I can get on stage and be funny, but in my personal life I found I couldn’t ask a partner a very basic question about his sexual health that could affect me forever,” Cummings, 35, tells PEOPLE. “In my partnership with ASHA, I was able to talk to college kids about the stigmas surrounding getting screened for STDs, and I discovered a lot of them had similar struggles.”
Cummings hosted a street stunt experiment involving a pop-up smoothie truck on a college campus to prove that people are quick to consume trendy ingredients like chlorophyll and charcoal in the name of health, yet they aren’t willing to take the simple and proven steps to get their sexual health checked out.
“No one wants to get an STD, but most people don’t even know they have them,” Cummings says. “Half of all sexually active people will get an STD by age 25, yet there’s still shame and embarrassment when it comes to getting tested.”
Although half of all new STDs occur in young people, screening rates in that group are particularly low.
“Some of the students [I talked to] knew neuroscience, but they don’t know where the closest STD clinic is,” Cummings says. “It’s interesting how big of a blind spot it is.”
As a comedian, Cummings is interested in tackling taboo topics and figuring out what makes people uncomfortable and why.
“This one girl I was talking to said, ‘Well, if I have an STD, that means that I’m a slut,’ ” Cummings explains. “I was like, ‘Whoa! We need to break that association!’ ”
She continues: “Getting young people to start taking their sexual health seriously is important to me.”