Sex, Health and University: A Guide to STI Prevention

Article by Robin Pointer

Some say your years at university are the best years of your life. You have the chance to get to know yourself and meet new people and have many new experiences. You may also explore your sexuality during this time, however it is important to remain safe. Developing an understanding of the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and overall sexual health is imperative.

It may be difficult to prevent illnesses such as the flu as they can easily be transmitted by airborne particles, but STIs are a different story altogether. Preventing them and protecting yourself is entirely up to you.

Protection vs. Contraception.

A common misconception among students is that protection against STIs and contraception are the same thing. This is not always true.

Contraception has one main function: to prevent pregnancy. However if a woman takes birth control pills she is still vulnerable to infections such as a chlamydia, herpes, genital warts and HIV.

For STI prevention condoms are your best bet. Both the male and female condoms create a barrier that can stop virus and bacterial infections. Whilst they do not eliminate risk of infection entirely they significantly reduce it.

It is also less risky to engage in sex with fewer partners. With multiple partners you have higher chances of contracting an STI; if each of your partners also has sex with multiple partners the risk increases exponentially.

When possible it is best to have a monogamous sexual relationship in which both parties have been previously tested for STIs.

Get informed

The more you know about sexually transmitted infections, the easier it will be to detect them at an early, and often more treatable stage. Take the time to learn to recognise the symptoms of the most common viruses and infections.


Knowing about Chlamydia is crucial, as this is the most common STI in the United Kingdom. While mostly asymptomatic, it can result in a cloudy or watery genital discharge, as well as abdominal pain.


Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that causes a burning sensation while urinating in men and vaginal discharge and abdominal pain in women. If it is not treated quickly it can lead to severe complications including pelvic inflammatory disease.


Although it can be transmitted in other ways, unprotected sexual intercourse is the most common form of transmission for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The infection slowly attacks your immune system, making you more vulnerable to other diseases.

If left untreated the infection progresses to AIDS. In this phase of the condition the patient becomes increasingly vulnerable to lung infections and certain forms of cancer. Currently there is no cure for AIDS although there is very effective suppressant treatment.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexually transmitted infections. Whilst they do not represent the entire spectrum of conditions, they present a very clear case of why protection and responsible sexual behaviour is important.

Anyone who is sexually active is vulnerable to STIs but they are more common among younger people if only because they tend to have more sex with more partners. If you are sexually active at university, always practise safe sex, obtain as much information on STI prevention as possible and get tested often.