STDs: What Every College Student Needs to Know

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Free from the watchful eyes of parents, college students are primed to let loose, party and enjoy all that college life has to offer. After all, most college-age students feel invincible. But as a student, if you're not careful, too often what's on offer at your school of choice is a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Consider this: One study found that almost half of all college students believed you could tell whether someone has an STD by looking at them. The truth is that over 80 percent of those with STDs don’t have any noticeable symptoms according to the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Colorado, and when they do, the symptoms might not show up for years.

While abstinence is the only way to completely remove your risk of developing an STD, it is not reasonable to expect all college students to be celibate during their college years. The next best way to help prevent STDs is to understand the different types of STDs, the risks involved, and how to protect yourself.

Types of STDs

There are two main types of STDs: bacterial and viral.

Bacterial STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and parasitic infections. These can be treated with antibiotics. Early treatment is important because when left untreated, these infections can cause serious and permanent damage.

Viral infections include herpes, hepatitis, HPV and HIV. Medication can be used to manage or suppress symptoms, but these viruses cannot be cured.

Both bacterial and viral infections often do not have any symptoms or can remain dormant for many years before symptoms become apparent. To make sure you are treated early, get tested annually if you are sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship. When you are starting a new relationship, you and your potential partner should get tested before engaging in a sexual relationship.

The risks

Being a college student puts you at risk of developing an STD. About one-fourth of all college students will have at least one STD by the end of their education. Each year, there are about 20 million diagnoses of STDS in the United States-- half of which are diagnosed in those aged 15-24 years old. The three most common types of STDs in college are herpes, chlamydia and HPV.

One of the main reasons college students are at a high risk is a lack of sexual education. While some high schools provide sexual education during health and wellness classes, many do not. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the availability of sex education in schools has declined since 2000. In addition, close to 90 percent of high schools across the country allow parents to exclude their teens from sexual health education if they don’t agree with the curriculum. A little more than one-third of schools taught the correct procedure for using a condom. It is, therefore, up to the individual to seek out information. Your college health center can provide testing for STDs as well as give information on sexual education and explain how to best prevent pregnancy and infections.

The lack of condom use is another problem. Only 54 percent of college students use condoms for vaginal sex on a regular basis. This number is closer to 30 percent for anal sex and almost non-existent for oral sex, according to Sutter Health: Palo Alto Medical Foundation. This could relate to the lack of education: however, drinking and partying could also play a role. Many college health and wellness centers distribute condoms free of charge. It might be wise to have a supply of condoms in your dorm room.

Condoms alone can’t completely prevent STDs. Some diseases, such as herpes, can be passed through skin contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex, which means that even if you are using a condom, you can still contract these STDs. Regular testing when you are sexually active can help, but only if you and your potential partner are tested prior to engaging in a sexual relationship.

Steps to protect yourself

There are only a few steps you need to take to reduce your risk of contracting an STD. (Remember, the only absolute way is abstinence.)

  • Learn about sexual health and STDs.

  • Use a condom every time.

  • Get tested on a regular basis.

  • Request potential sexual partners be tested prior to engaging in sex.

  • Limit the number of sexual partners.

  • Avoid sexual encounters when drinking or partying. Wait until you are sober to decide if this is what you want to do and who you want to do it with.

If you do have an STD, make sure to notify any sexual partners so they can get tested and treated if necessary.


College Health and Safety: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Concerning Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): American University

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.