College can be full of new experiences. While we’re all busy taking classes and worrying about our future, we’re also meeting new people. Think of the first day of classes, when you first meet anywhere from twenty to one hundred other people all at once. If you go to parties or out on the weekends, imagine all the people you meet there. If you’re looking for anything from a one-night stand to a frequent hookup or a new partner, you need to follow one very simple rule.
Get tested for STIs EVERY SINGLE TIME you have sex with a new partner.
It cannot be stressed enough. Your sexual health and wellness is an important part of your overall wellbeing. Casual hookups are okay until you decide to forego protecting yourself and your partner and put yourself at risk of catching an STI.
Let’s start with what they are. STIs, also known as Sexually Transmitted Infections, are infections you can get by having sex with someone who has an infection. They can be passed one of several ways; including oral sex, anal sex, and skin-to-skin contact in the oral/genital area.
Examples of STIs caused by viruses are herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Some STIs caused by bacteria include syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. You’ve probably heard of some of these, or all of them, in high school sex ed classes or introductory biology classes in college.
These infections have nasty symptoms that you definitely don’t want to experience. Symptoms like itching around the genitals, pain during sex or urination, sores on the genital area/anus/tongue or throat, or unexplained fatigue and night sweats. And those aren’t even all of the horrific symptoms you could experience. There’s so much more to each kind of infection that will leave you miserable and absolutely wiped out.
How do you know if your partner has an STI? You ASK.
Yes, it can be an uncomfortable situation to ask. But I was always told that if you’re too nervous or uncomfortable to have an honest conversation about STIs, then you’re not ready to have sex with someone. If you can’t ask your partner about their sexual health, you shouldn’t be getting down and dirty with them.
Can STIs be prevented?
Of course they can! The only sure way to prevent them is to abstain from sex, but that’s not always reasonable for some people. If you are sexually active, you should be using some sort of barrier protection between you and your partner. This includes male or female condoms, and dental dams for oral sex. Condoms aren’t 100% safe though, so another way to prevent infecting yourself is to (see above) ask your partner if they have any STIs and avoid sexual contact if they are infected or experiencing symptoms.
The hookup culture in colleges and universities is highly prevalent. But if you can, you should limit the number of sex partners you have to avoid a higher risk of infection. If you do have multiple partners, get tested every time you have sex with a new partner. Ask your partners to get tested too!
The symptoms aren’t a cake walk, the infections and resulting diseases can be pretty horrific. Take your sexual health serious and get tested every single time you have a new partner. Most college campuses have days where their health center does free STI testing. Ask the campus nurses if you can make an appointment to be tested. Or while you’re home, see your general physician and ask where you should be getting tested.
Of course, if you do experience any symptoms of infections after sex, or even if you’re just worried you might have caught something, don’t be afraid to see your doctor. It’s easy to be embarrassed about asking these questions, but your doctor went to school to help keep you healthy. They want to see you stay that way, and they are there to help treat you if they find anything.
And because I can’t say this enough…. Get tested for STIs after EVERY NEW PARTNER. Your body will thank you.