In 2018, rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia in the US had climbed among young adults aged 15 to 24 for the fourth consecutive year. However, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only 22 states and the District of Columbia require sex and HIV-prevention education in grade school, and only 20 of these require information on condoms and contraception to be taught. Twenty-six states require abstinence be stressed when teaching students about sex, so it’s time to shout the words ‘sexually’ ‘transmitted’ and ‘diseases’ from the rooftops. In today’s Sex Ed class, learn how to protect yourself from STDs and seek help discreetly.
What are STDs?
STDs are passed from one person to another during vaginal, anal and oral sex. They’re common, but 80 percent of people who have them do not experience any symptoms.
Some prevalent STDs include:
- Pubic lice
- Genital warts
- Hepatitis B
- HIV & AIDS
The bad news is that anyone who is sexually active can get an STD. The good news is that, in general, STDs are highly preventable. While the only guaranteed method to prevent infection is to abstain from all sexual contact, there are some sure steps that you can take to reduce your risk of contracting an STD if you’re exploring sex in college.
Outside of the act itself, educating yourself about sexual health and taking a couple of precautions before engaging in any sexual activity can help to reduce your risk of getting an STD. The following may sound obvious, but in this case, the phrase “better safe than sorry” definitely rings true. Remember: taking control of your body isn’t something to be embarrassed about.
Take these precautions:
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Explicitly talk to potential partners about your sexual histories.
- Get tested, along with your potential partner, before having sex.
- Avoid having sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B (HBV).
Practicing Safe Sex
Okay, so you’re having sex—but how can you make it “safe sex”? From male and female condoms to dental dams and gloves, the world of barrier protection is vast and in place to help protect you against STDs.
The most popular form of barrier contraception is the trusty condom, which may not be so reliable if used incorrectly. Be sure to check the expiration date and that the condom package has an air bubble (to show it hasn’t been punctured). Read the instructions on the box and ensure you know how to put the condom on correctly. Use condom-safe lubricant, make sure it doesn’t slip off, and never reuse a condom or take it off and put it back on.
You might be feeling confident that your condom game is strong but, while barriers are good at preventing the exchange of bodily fluids, they do not prevent the transmission of infection entirely. Syphilis, herpes and HPV are all STDs that can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, so take precautions and talk openly to your potential partners. If you’re unsure, seek advice from your healthcare provider.
With most people who have an STD displaying no symptoms, it’s really important to get tested if you think you could be at risk. STDs can cause serious health problems if they’re left untreated, and having one also makes you more likely to get other STDs, like HIV. According to the American College Health Association, only 52 percent of young people actually use a condom during sex, so let’s keep it real. Ideally, you should get tested after the first time you have sex and between every partner. The best part about getting tested: once you get it over with, your mind will be at ease.
Most STDs are easy to treat and getting checked can be quick and simple. Depending on what you’re being tested for, your healthcare provider may take a blood sample, a swab or ask you to pee in a cup—easy!
It’s normal to feel embarrassed or uneasy about getting tested for STDs, but safe sex is a reality for everyone, because everyone who is sexually active is at risk of getting infected. Here are some tips on how to get checked discreetly:
- Take advantage of college resources. Most campus health centers will be able to answer your questions about sexual health, prescribe birth control, distribute condoms and dental dams and even offer STD testing.
- Bite the bullet. Search for a nearby healthcare center by zip code on websites like STDcheck.com and the CDC’s website—many take walk-ins.
- Order a self-test kit. You can test for certain STDs from the comfort of your own home.
- Rope in a friend. Offload your worries onto a close friend or make getting checked for STDs into a group outing (soooo Insta-worthy?)