Students and Sexual Health

  |     |   Health & Wellbeing

It’s a little scary to think that 25% of university first years will catch an STI, but you don’t have to be a statistic. With the right attitude and education, you can easily side-step the grim reality of STIs while at university and beyond. 

According to a recent survey, 15% of under 25s have admitted to having unsafe sex with two or more partners since arriving at university. But, since condoms are freely available from family planning clinics, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics and even at universities themselves, why are students still participating in such risky sexual behaviour?

The Student Room, the world largest student forum, recently performed a study on sexual activity among students and found that more than half of sexually active students have never been tested for sexually transmitted infections, despite 63% admitting to engaging in unprotected sex. The aim of this survey? To change the way sex education is taught in schools and to encourage young people to take the necessary precautions in protecting their sexual health.

When asked about sex education received, 40% of students felt it was ‘just average’ while 27% said it was ‘poor’. When it comes to advice and information about sex, the majority of students revealed they found the internet the most helpful.


How Can Students Avoid an STI?

What’s discouraging for young people is that carrying condoms can be seen as a sign of promiscuity. In fact, one-third of young people feel they would be judged by their peers if they carried condoms in their wallet… This shouldn’t be the case, as using condoms is the most effective way of preventing the spread of STIs. That said, recent research found that nearly half of the under-25s questioned did not use one when engaging in sexual activity with a new partner, while 10% admitted that they never used condoms.

Experts revealed that cases of STIs like and syphilis have soared with the latest figures released by Public Health England, stating that 41,193 people were diagnosed with gonorrhoea in 2015, an increase of 10% from the previous year, while 5,288 people were diagnosed with syphilis, up by a massive 76% since 2012.

While cases of chlamydia have dropped, health professionals fear this may not be due to a drop in actual cases, but a drop in testing. In fact, in 2015, just 13% of young men and 32% of young women were tested for STIs.


What Are the Most Common STIs Affecting Young People? 

According to the latest figures by the NHS, cases of STIs, including HIV, are increasing, with the highest increase seen among young people aged 16-24. This age group accounted for:

  • 63% of chlamydia cases
  • 55% of cases
  • 52% of genital warts cases
  • 42% of herpes cases

Even scarier is that not all STIs come with symptoms, so you may not even know you have one. In fact, around a quarter of people with HIV are oblivious to the fact that they are carrying the disease. If left undiagnosed, the risk of not receiving the proper treatment as well as potentially passing it on to another sexual partner is high.

If you suspect that you or your partner might have an STI, you can get tested at your nearest sexual health centre, GUN centre or even some family planning clinics. That said, going to a clinic to get an STI test can be seen as embarrassing or awkward, especially among young people. A good idea would be to go with a friend for moral support or, even better, your partner, as they will also likely need to get tested.


Can You Get Tested Online? 

Due to the perceived stigma attached to being tested for an STI, online testing kits are becoming a popular alternative. According to research, demand for STI testing kits over the internet almost doubled in 2016, with more than 417,000 diagnoses of STIs in England that year. But, why? There are a few reasons:

  • It’s safer
  • There’s less drama, and most crucially
  • It’s more private

Known as e-STI testing kits, this new service has been developed to boost testing for gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia and HIV. Kits are ordered over the internet, with sexual health information also made available, then posted out, allowing people to do the test themselves and return the kit by post. The results will then be given either over the phone or via text message. These testing kits make getting tested all the more convenient and private, which is a major concern for all age groups.


What Are Universities Doing to Create Awareness?

Many universities have jumped on board with several initiatives taking place across the country to highlight the importance of safe sex. By doing so, these institutions are responsibly doing their part to address real issues that affect a vast majority of students.

‘Sex Week’, which takes place mid-March, is organised by the Sexpression Society at the University of Manchester, which aims to provide accessible advice and information about safe sex, gender, sexuality and relationships to university students throughout the country. The event runs for an entire week and includes pub quiz nights with prizes and film screenings.

Another initiative that has been brought back by popular demand is S.H.A.G (Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance) Week, which takes place at Newcastle University. In the past few years, students voted this as the number one most effective campaign initiative, where they tackle everything from relationships to body issues and consent, and, of course, safe sex. The initiative hands out free contraception in SHAG bags around campus and offers students the chance to take free chlamydia and gonorrhoea tests.


Where Can You Get Checked for an STI?

Services and advice about STIs and sexual health are readily available throughout the country. If you need to get yourself tested, you can visit:

  • GPs
  • Family planning clinics
  • Sexual health clinics
  • GUM Clinics
  • Pharmacies
  • University organisations


Free Helplines

  • National Sexual Health Helpline – 0300 123 7123
  • Childline – 0800 1111
  • NHS – 111


Sexual Health and Relationship Information and Advice

  • Brook – Offering free and confidential sexual health advice, contraception and counselling –
  • Family Planning Association – Information, advice support on all aspects sexual health –
  • NHS – Sexual Health website –
  • Sexual Health South West London – Information and advice on sexual health issues, clinic locations and opening times –
  • Avert – Information on HIV and AIDS –
  • Rise Above – A place where young people can share experiences, questions and challenges –

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