It’s not an openly discussed topic, but we all know that your sexual health is important. Failing to look after yourself because you’re embarrassed or not sure how to, can have serious effects on your health, both short term and long term. Meeting interesting new people, intoxication of various sorts and being liberated and away from home can quite often lead to more sexual experiences…..

Alongside these new experiences are risks and unfortunately you don’t need to have sex with lots of different people to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Whilst University offers you a new-found freedom, it also provides you with a lack of support; it is your first time ‘out there on your own’. It is completely down to you to look after your sexual health and therefore, it is important to be aware of how to go about it. It’s not quite like secondary school with those embarrassing PSHCE sessions. The NHS reported that 59% of people who got chlamydia or gonorrhoea in 2016 were aged 16-24, falling directly into the demographic of us students. Samantha Disney, Service Manager at sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK, gives wise advice saying: “Just treat going to an STI clinic in the same way you would going to your doctors or dentist - looking after your sexual health is a normal part of life”. But this is easier said than done sometimes.

STI’s are contracted not only through sexual intercourse but also through plenty of other types of sexual encounters. The best way to prevent them is using protection. In the long term, if left untreated an STI can lead to multiple other health implications, including infertility in women. Don’t forget, at Uni most Student Unions offer free condoms – if yours doesn’t ask why! Condoms are the only way to prevent the transmission of STI’s. They’re non-invasive, easily accessible and available for everyone, male or female. However, is this really enough for us to protect ourselves? Isn’t it embarrassing going to campus and picking up condoms in public? Services start and end there, with a scattering of advice about how to use contraception and education on STI’s being limited. Until writing this piece I was completely unaware of the services offered to students. There is no open conversation surrounding students and their sexual health and this seriously needs to change.

At Universities a large problem is not only the stigma and embarrassment around sexual health and STI’s, but also sometimes students are not necessarily connected to their local GP service. This presents many problems not only for your sexual health but for health generally. Limited access to medical care means that there is a lack of regular check-ups and therefore advice, which in turn makes the likelihood of STI’s being transmitted more probable.

There are alternative options in these cases, including ordering free condoms from the NHS service Let’s Talk About It (you can order them here) and if you’re worried you might have contracted an STI you can also order a postal testing kit for free (here). These services offer discreet packaging and free postage so there is no need to worry about your housemates finding out if you really are scared! Your results are texted to you so there is no need to wait around for an appointment or letter with the results. You can also buy tests you do yourself, like the BioSURE HIV Self Test  so you can test wherever, whenever and with whoever you want to and you can know your own results in just 15 minutes.

Your local sexual health clinic is probably the best way to get a free, confidential full check-up. It is recommended that you go at least once every year; or whenever an incident of unprotected sex has taken place (whichever is more frequent!) There is no judgement, it is a quick and easy process, and like all other services provided on the NHS it is free. There are hundreds of charities that also offer free advice, a great one to check if you are worried is Brook - they offer information and advice, including where to find local services.

Some warning signs of STI’s can include:

  • sores or bumps on and around your genitals, thighs, or butt cheeks
  • weird discharge from your vagina or penis
  • burning when you pee and/or having to pee a lot
  • itching, pain, irritation and/or swelling in your penis, vagina, vulva, or anus
  • flu-like symptoms like fever, body aches, swollen glands, and feeling tired

As you read those symptoms what did you think? Did you think it was gross? Or off putting? Or did you make a face? It’s always worth repeating the facts, but this was also a test of the taboo in action.

But what is best to get over this fear? It is be open, talk about it and contribute to ending the stigma surrounding sexual health. We’re all growing as adults at University and we can make this happen; break down that awkward barrier and start talking about STI’s. Utilise the resources available to you, search your university’s websites, it will be there somewhere! We need to change this and move forward, we need more openness and discussion about STI’s to break the taboo. Let’s educate one another to live happier and healthier sexual life styles.