In light of the fact that April is STD Awareness Month, we’re taking a look at what students really need to know about staying protected against STDs. According to the CDC, half of new STD infections occur among high school and college-age people, and the age group between 15 and 24 accounts for 25 percent of the sexually active population in the U.S.
Many colleges encourage students to use condoms and get tested regularly, yet these efforts often do not provide students with all the information they need to stay protected against STDs. Although many college students are savvy about avoiding unwanted pregnancies, staying safe against diseases like HPV, gonorrhea and chlamydia is too often a secondary concern.
It all comes down to condoms, which are the only effective means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases from spreading for sexually active people. Most colleges and universities provide students with free condoms, yet students do not always ch0ose to use them. We take a look at common condom myths, and some expert rebuttals.
Myth #1: Condoms Are Desensitizing
Many men argue that condoms lead to decreased sensitivity and loss of erection, however the phenomena often have more to do with mental perception than reality. Condoms are actually extremely thin, a point Carol Carrozza, VP of Marketing for LifeStyles Condoms, illustrates with a fingerprint. Put a condom on your finger, press it on an ink pad, and test it on some paper. “They literally can see their finger print right through the condom onto the piece of paper,” says Carrozza.
That being said, good sex has a lot to do with perception, and should not be dismissed out of hand. Melissa Jones, Ph.D., a personal sexuality education consultant and sexologist, recommends trying different brands, shapes and styles to find one that fits and feels right. Condoms that are too big are likely to feel less comfortable. “Also, applying a small amount of lube inside the condom may allow for more sensitivity for the man,” says Jones, “as long as it’s not too much, so it doesn’t slide off during sex.”
If one partner cannot reach climax with a condom, they should communicate their needs to find a safe alternative.
Myth #2: Condoms Are Redundant If You’re on the Pill
Oral contraceptives do not protect against STDs, but many young women on the pill are more likely to forgo using a condom when they’re not at risk for getting pregnant. This is particularly true for couples who are in monogamous relationships. “They also sometimes feel that it’s a sign of lack of trust,” say Jones. “If the woman is using oral contraceptives, then they may feel that the use of a condom is redundant for birth control and then is only being used to prevent STDs, which neither of them may want to consider that they have.” Couples in college should only stop using once they’ve both been tested for STDs. It’s also important to remember that there’s no test human papillomavirus (HPV) test for men, so even if a man’s blood work for STDs returns all negative results, he may still be able to transmit HPV.
Myth #3: Guys Who Carry Condoms Are Tools or Women Who Carry Condoms Are Skanks
On a college campus where condoms are available for free, access seems like an easily conquerable problem, but moralizing stigma seems to get in the way. “If a man or woman has one ready, it means that he or she was considering the possibility of sex (over abstinence) and that therefore he or she is being slutty,” says Jones. “If they have sex without a condom then they can justify their actions as being caught up in the moment.”
Carrozza argues that sex education can take a fun approach to encourage students to always carry condoms. “That’s probably the biggest problem in terms of condom usage,” she says. LifeStyles is a major distributor of condoms to universities and colleges, providing over 4000 four- and two-year institutions with products and educational materials. These include advice for how to open up conversations about condom use, which can help build more positive attitudes towards condom use.
Myth #4: You Don’t Need a Condom for Oral or Anal Sex
No, you can’t get pregnant from a blow job, but you can get a STD. Most STDs can be transmitted through any sharing of body fluids. “The other thing is that condoms can protect what they cover,” says Carrozza. “So, if a person does have lesions or other abrasions as a result of an STD, but it’s not covered by the condom, they can transmit the virus. That’s why it’s important to make sure the condom is on properly and covers the entire penis.”
Condoms should also be used on any shared sex toys.
Myth #5: Lesbians Don’t Need Condoms
Safe sex for lesbians also means not sharing potentially infected bodily fluids. Women who have sex with other women should also use some form of barrier protection, like a dental dam, until they’re in a monogamous relationship and both partners have been tested.
Lastly, sexually active people, regardless of how careful they are with condoms, should regularly get tested for STDs and women should get a pap smear annually.