College students are bombarded with stressors. I mean, fraternity brothers, their parties, random hookups and mysterious drinks in red solo cups are just the beginning of this boisterous time. On top of all that pressure, sexually and nonsexually active young adults of all orientations must beware of a public health crisis: The rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
"We are sliding backward... It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point."– Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H
A few days ago, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released breaking news of America's STD epidemic: "nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States in 2017." This data exhibits a "steep, sustained increase" in STD rates, including antibiotic-resistant strands. There are 200,000 more cases since last year and, in the past five years, proportions have grown by 30%. Nonetheless, local, state and national STD programs have continued to undergo budget cuts—thus, causing further harm to society.
This isn't including all the instances that are left undiagnosed, particularly since "several of the most common STDs have no signs or symptoms in the majority of persons infected."
In the midst of this plight, I randomly surveyed* over 160 students, between the ages of 17 and 24, to see what the unfiltered STD college experience is like for all genders and sexualities. In general, the older individuals seemed to have more of a background with STDs as they either had one or knew someone who did. Thus, even this nonchalant survey discloses that as one goes through college, the chances of STD exposure seems to be relatively high.
47% of students either have/had or know someone who has/had an STD.
Those who depend on WebMD
"Does Web MD count?" – Age 22
The internet is a grim blackhole that always leads people to conclude that they have the worst of the worst conditions. Their simple common cold becomes a dire ischemic heart disease with a click of the refresh button. Hence, never solely depend on the internet's doctor to solve your medical issues.
"I learned some general stuff, like names and what they looked like" – Age 20
"The last time I learned about STDs was in my high school health class and that was three years ago, shit had changed, right?" – Age 20
"Almost everyone probably has one" – Age 22
"Symptoms–yes. Prevention–no... There should be more information out there about prevention other than just abstinence-based education and basic straight, vaginal intercourse-based information" – Age 17
"I wish I were more aware of them and signs of them in general" – Age 20
"Does a UTI count?" – Age 19
Power of the pussy
Give an applause to all the chicas who are confidently living life, being safe 100% of the time, and shamelessy taking care of themselves!
"I sleep around a lot (yay female empowerment!)"– Age 22
"It was a real problem for me when I was casually hooking up with people" – Age 20
One woman gets tested "every three months" – Age 18
"I use protection and I have the STD discussion with every sex partner" – Age 23
"For a modern woman it is vital to be aware of the risks" – Age 19
"Have asked about my past and current partner about. I still practice safety and testing regardless" – Age 21
When asked if she has experienced STD scares, a young woman responded with, "Yes! Many times! "– Age 22
"As a teenage girl in a big city, I definitely think it's a problem or at least a risk" – Age 18
"Wrap it before you tap it" – Age 23
It's super easy to ensure that you are actively practicing safe sex. Condoms aren't 100% effective, but it's better than going raw!
"It's important to be safe and use protection" – Age 23
"Before the love put on the glove... Don't be silly wrap your willy" – Age 18
"Wrap your wacker before you attack her" – Age 22
"People with birth control... still need to use condoms" – Age 18
"I feel like a lot of people think condoms are only to prevent pregnancy but it's also to protect you from other things, as well"–Age 18
"Condoms, condoms, and condoms!" – Age 20
"Guys should stop pressuring girls to not use condoms because STDs do exist! It's not some mythological monster created by the Trojan company" – Age 22
"Sex is nice, but not worth an STD so condom up" – Age 18
"I am very cautious and am aware that STD's exist. Usually, when I have oral sex, I always use a condom despite the fact that I am sometimes judged. Would I rather risk the guys never talking to me, or pleasuring them and then walking around with ugly marks on my face? No thank you!" – Age 22
"Use condoms always!!!!!" – Age 18
The risk-takers in relationships
"I was in a relationship and STILL got chlamydia" – Age 22
Protect your one and only body! No matter if you are in the best, most honest, fairytale-like relationship, make sure to get tested! It's good practice and better to be safe than sorry: "Investing in STD prevention is a win-win. These are time-tested, highly cost-effective interventions that save lives and money" (David C. Harvey).
"No, because I trust my partners" – Age 21
"It's concerning, but I'm in a monogamous and trusting relationship so I am not worried" – Age 17
"I do not change my sex partners often" – Age 19
"I'm in a monogamous trusting, committed relationship I was a virgin before I met him" – Age 17
"Partner was tested before unprotected sex"– Age 20
"My significant other and I have only been with each other so I'm not worried [about] getting anything" – Age 17
"I don't think it's a problem for me personally since I'm in a monogamous relationship" – Age 20
"If he ever cheated I could be in jeopardy but we trust one another and I get tested every six months" – Age 19
"I think STDs shouldn't be frowned upon because it can happen to anyone" – Age 19
There is nothing wrong or shameful about having sex, it's natural! But we are all humans who make mistakes and even condoms aren't perfect. Don't be ashamed to ask for help if you're distressed about a situation. Your medical health is more important than your slight embarrassment about talking sex.
Approximately half (49%) of my respondents have gotten tested at least one time.
"Should be tested and discussed, but not used as a scare tactic" – Age 20
"There's a stigma around STDs being the worst thing that could happen to you (even though they're not); not enough people are aware of the effects of STDs and willingly have unprotected sex... I have an incurable STD" – Age 21
"I think everyone should learn to be sexually responsible and test themselves" – Age 19
"Working for a dermatologist made me aware of how common they really are" – Age 21
"STDs are a problem for people everywhere, especially in third world countries" – Age 20
"I think STDs should be more openly discussed and it should not be that taboo to test for it" – Age 17
"Need to get rid of the stigma" – Age 21
"There should be more awareness for STDs, especially for non-cis relationships. There should be more encouragement for people to speak openly about it" – Age 17
Haven't gotten tested "because of cost and slight embarrassment. Still live at home with parents, so don't want sensitive information like that exposed to her or showing up on insurance EOB" – Age 20
"It can happen to anyone" – Age 18
"I think it is very important to be working to destigmatize HIV/AIDs" – Age 18
"I think people are not aware of how common it is to get an STD. I think if you aren't careful it's very possible to get one" –Age 18
"People should be comfortable with discussing STDs, as well as getting themselves regularly tested" –Age 20
"I think there's a certain stigma surrounding STD's. People are too afraid to get tested because they either don't want to know they have it or are nervous about what friends/family will think" – Age 22"I think it's an issue that needs to be out in the open... to ensure it doesn't spread"– Age 18
Those who realized that they need to be more careful
"Plowed a girl and she told me a few days later she had herpes. I didn't get one, but she did I guess" – Age 18
The first step to bettering our public health is recognizing the issue and following through with solutions, which in this case is safe sex and more sex-education.
"Definitely a real problem, but doesn't feel like it could really happen to you until there's a scare" – Age 20
"If something is wrong down there, let your doctor know!" – Age 22
"I know about them but to be honest I don't take them as seriously as I should... I should care more about them... when I do sleep with somebody new, STDs tend to be the last thing on my mind" – Age 19
"They're terrifying and taboo but I still can't motivate myself to use a condom if I don't have to" – Age 20
"There really should be more condoms available on campus" – Age 18
"It could be [dangerous] if I'm not careful" – Age 19
"I probably should get tested soon just to make sure my partner's safe" – Age 17
"They're very real but not spreading them is easy if people are honest and get tested" – Age 21
"People have to be careful who they engage in activities with, If you have an STD, you should be honest to prevent spreading infection" – Age 19
STDs are scary
"I was drugged and raped. The problem was that I didn't know if he used a condom and I had intense vaginal pain" – Age 20
Roughly a litter more than 25% of surveyors reported undergoing an STD scare at least once in their lifetime.
"I had one, but I'm pretty sure I got it when I was raped. I always use protection otherwise" – Age 19
"As an anxious person, I worry about contracting STIs often. I am in a 'high risk' group as a gay male body"– Age 18
"You don't want to be the next person in line to get a disease! It's not a joke!" – Age 22
"When I hear of people who have them I get scared" – Age 18
"I am worried I will get one" – Age 18
"Shits scary" – Age 21
"It is hard to know whether someone you're about to have intimacy with has or had an STD" – Age 20
"I've never had sex and it's literally the reason why I'm scared to" – Age 18
"It's scary to know I could get something long-lasting" – Age 22
"It's scary" – Age 20
"Makes hookups scary" – Age 17
"STDs are real and they are scary" – Age 19
"The possibility of contracting one is always in the back of my head" – Age 21
"It's serious and life-changing" – Age 18
"It's scary because it's everywhere" – Age 18
The experts who've heard enough in their sex-education classes
"I know how to prevent them" – Age 19
I helped teach sex-ed classes when I was a junior in high school, so it pleases me that some information sunk into my peers' heads about safe sex.
"It's important to be sexually educated, whether that's about consent, safe sex, preventing pregnancy, STDs, STIs, or just learning to be communicative with your partner" – Age 21
"They are preventable. People should communicate with each other before engaging in sexual activities and use protection" – Age 23
"Gonorrhea and chlamydia are easy to get but easy to get rid of!" – Age 22
"They are avoidable with the correct precautions" – Age 18
"I'm very aware of them and am proactive in certain situations (i.e. stopping in heated up moments to look for condoms, ask about sexual history, etc)" – Age 20
"With a lot of STDs the symptoms stay dormant for a couple of years" – Age 19
"Always get checked after you have sex with someone new!!! And ask them before!" – Age 19
"The topic was definitely covered a lot in health class in middle school"– Age 18
"If they have the slightest suspicion they should get tested so they can find a treatment quickly" – Age 19
"Use dental dams for oral sex... STDs like chlamydia can literally be gotten through oral sex" – Age 18
Those who don't think it's their problem
"Don't really have any opportunities to get them so I'm in the clear" – Age 19
Some of the participants were self-assured that they don't have to worry about STDs for a variety of reasons, including not having sex or being in a trustworthy relationship. Yet, even for those waiting to have intercourse when married, practicing safe sex is a behavior they will have to acknowledge in the future.
"Not having sex until marriage so I don't think about it very much – Age 20
"It is not a problem as of yet since I am not in situations that run the risk of STDs" – Age 20
"I won't have sex until I'm married" – Age 17
"I've personally had no sexual intercourse so I know all the resources and risks but have never been in a position that puts me at risk for STDs" – Age 21
And, finally, those who know that it's other people's issue
"I'm scared for my friends, college is about having fun and sometimes sex is a lot of fun, I always make sure they are safe, and make sure they think twice about who they sleep with!" – Age 20
Although some individuals weren't afraid for themselves, they did reveal a concern for their peers.
"For other college students that choose to have unprotected sex, it is a very real issue" – Age 19
"I feel that it is a problem that more people need to be aware of, but it is not a problem for myself" – Age 18
"I think it isn't being taught enough/the right way which is why people don't take STD preventions (like wearing a condom) seriously" – Age 19
"My friend thought she had an STD but it was just a vaginal fungus" – Age 19
"But I know some people" – Age 23
"Obviously it's a problem for the general sexually active populous" – Age 18
There are a multitude of resources to help you if you are concerned that you, a friend, or partner may have an STD or would like to get tested. Assure yourself that you understand the safety precautions that come along with sex, including oral, vaginal, and anal, and, if you're sexually active, begin getting tested regularly! Even if you're not sexually active, it's good practice to go get tested for the future.
Don't let any embarrassment, unjustified shame, or misunderstanding harm your health.
*survey bias may exist