Books, beer and sex. Those are three near givens on any college campus. But what most college students don’t realize is that when it comes to beer and sex, there is a lot more at risk than just a hangover and a broken heart. College students are one of the most at-risk groups for sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).
But before panic sets in, here is what you need to know about protecting yourself, increasing your sex-ed knowledge, and lowering your risk for becoming just another statistic.
There are two primary risk factors for STDs among students:
First, college students enjoy a remarkably easy access to alcohol, which significantly impairs judgment and in many cases, leads to sex.
Second, the lack of practicing risk-reduction behaviors like safe-sex or getting tested regularly also amps up risk. This second risk factor can be intimately related to alcohol as the effects of booze contributes to whether or not someone is coherent enough to put on a condom or inquire about their partner’s sexual health.
Most Common STDs
According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year more than 19 million Americans are newly infected with an STD with just more than nine million of these individuals being young adults.
Genital Herpes: A viral infection that results in sores or blisters around the genitals or mouth that is transmitted orally or through sex. There is no cure for herpes, but outbreaks can be controlled by taking certain anti-viral medications.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): A viral infection that affects more women than men, and if not treated can lead to cervical cancer. Diagnosis is typically made during a routine Pap smear, or in some cases, the infection may lead to genital warts. Currently, young women can get the HPV vaccine Gardisil, which protects against the most common and virulent strains of the virus.
Chlamydia: A bacterial infection that is passed from an infected person to a non-infected person during sexual intercourse. Symptoms include a burning sensation while urinating and chronic lower abdominal pain. Although chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics, if the infection goes undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to infertility and cause permanent reproductive organ damage.
Gonorrhea: A bacterial infection that is spread during sex, even if the male partner does not ejaculate. Symptoms may be nonexistent or they may be experienced as pain during urination or frequent discharge. Treatment involves taking a series of antibiotics.
HIV/AIDS: Although treatment has significantly improved prognosis and quality of life, HIV/AIDS is perhaps the most frightening of all STDs. Passed via semen, vaginal fluid, blood or breast milk, early symptoms include flu-like signs that are often mistaken for the common cold or seasonal flu. Lifetime treatment is required in order to control and live with HIV/AIDS.
How to Prevent STDs
The most important actions you can take to protect yourself from becoming infected with an STD are:
1. Practice abstinence
2. Always wear a condom (for some STDs, this may reduce risk but not offer full protection)
3. Get tested regularly and know your partner’s STD status
4. Be in a faithful or monogamous relationship
For more information, contact your school’s student health services department, as most of them are well-equipped with confidential testing, counseling and treatment services.