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Young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 are more at risk than any other population of contracting STDs. This increased risk is largely because college students more frequently engage in common behaviors, such as having unprotected sex and multiple partners, that can put them at risk for contracting STDs. Young women’s bodies are also more prone to STDs. Since most young adults don’t get the recommended STD tests or feel comfortable talking openly with doctors about their sex lives, these diseases can go undiagnosed and untreated.
With nearly half of the 18 to 24 year-olds in the U.S. enrolled in undergraduate or graduate school, college campuses can be breeding ground for STDs, putting students at even greater risk. Campuses also tend to be a conglomeration of people from all walks of life.
Community college students may be at even greater risk because they tend to include younger, more diverse, and mobile student populations. These students may also come from communities with higher STD risk factors to begin with. Studies have also found two-year students are more likely not to use a condom and have had more than one sexual partner than four-year students.
There are certain behaviors that put college students at greater risk of STDs. For instance, if you have sex without a condom – even if it’s anal or oral – you are at a higher risk of contracting an STD. Likewise, if you binge drink or have sex while drinking or doing drugs, your chances of getting an STD increase.
Risky behaviors that can increase your risk of contracting an STD include:
Being less willing to talk openly with a healthcare professional about your sex life can exacerbate the issue by delaying diagnosis and treatment. Since many STDs don’t have symptoms you would notice, it’s entirely possible for you to have a disease and not know it. Likewise, there is no way to know if your partner has an STD unless he or she has been tested.
There are certain circumstances that may complicate testing and treatment for STDs, such as:
STDs are at an all-time high, according to the latest research by the CDC. There were more than 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Studies have found that one in four sexually active adolescent girls has an STD, with chlamydia being the most common. Here are some statistics about specific STDs among young adults:
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Even though college students are at higher risk of getting an STD, there are many ways to reduce or eliminate your risk of contracting an STD. Of course, the most sure-fire way to avoid an STD is abstinence, meaning not having any vaginal, oral, or anal sex. While condoms and other safe sex practices can reduce your risk of getting an STD, they are not 100% effective as some STDs can spread merely by skin-to-skin contact. That said, there are ways to protect yourself while being sexually active:
Not all STDs have visible symptoms. It’s possible for someone to have an STD and not know it, making it even harder to prevent STD transmission. The only way to know for sure that you don’t have an STD is to get tested. STD testing is also key to catching a disease early and avoiding accidentally spreading it to your partners. Undiagnosed and untreated, some STDs can also cause other health issues, such as difficulty getting pregnant later in life and increasing your chances of getting HIV, which can be fatal if untreated.
Your healthcare provider can help you determine which STD tests you should get, but in general, college students who are sexually active under the age of 25 should get the following tests:
You can get college STD testing from your healthcare provider. Some outreach events and campuses may also offer testing, or provide resources for local testing sites. The CDC’s Testing Locator also provides free or low-cost testing sites near you.
|STD||Where you can test||How often to test|
||At least annually|
There are several places you can get tested for an STD, including:
One thing that can stop many college students from getting STD testing or adequate health care is a fear that their parents, family members, or friends will learn about their sexual activity. Studies have found that among students who forgo necessary health care, 33% do so because they didn’t want their parents to know.
It’s natural to feel this way, but there’s no need to worry. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule protects adolescent’s confidentiality. Under the law, a minor is afforded the same privacy rights as an adult if the minor consents to treatment, such as for an STD, under a state minor law. In this case, your parents would not be able to access your health information related to the situation unless you give consent.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule also lets you request health care providers communicate with you confidentially, such as by sending information to your personal email or somewhere other than your home.
If you still have concerns about your privacy through a clinic, at-home STD testing may be a reassuring option. You can order a kit online, provide the necessary sample – be it urine, blood, or both – and mail it back to the laboratory for testing. Results are typically provided via phone or email or published anonymously online.
Here are more resources for information on preventing STDs and college STD testing: