Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

There are many types of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Below is information on common STIs among college students. While HIV rates among college students are below the national average, about half of all new infections occur among college-aged students (ages 25 and under).

What is a STI exactly?
A sexually transmitted infection (STI), also referred to as a sexually transmitted disease (STD), is an infection that is passed from one person to another through sexual activity.

What’s considered “sexual activity”?
This includes oral sex (sexual activity in which the genitals –penis or vagina- or anus of one partner are stimulated by the mouth of the other partner), vaginal-vaginal or digital-vaginal contact, or anal sex.

Slang terms: the clam, gooey stuff

What is it?
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can be passed during any type of sexual contact. It can infect the genitals, anus, eyes, or throat.

How would I know if I have it?
Most times, there are no symptoms of chlamydia. Unfortunately, 50% of men and 75% of women show no symptoms when infected.

  • If women do show symptoms, they can include abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, and a burning sensation when urinating.
  • If men do show symptoms, they can include itching/burning and/or pain during urination and discharge from the penis.
  • If chlamydia infects the anus, it can cause itching and bleeding in both men and women. In the eyes, it may also cause itching and discharge. In the throat, chlamydia may cause soreness.

How is it treated?
Chlamydia can be cured with oral antibiotics. Both partners should be treated at the same time to prevent reinfection.

How can I prevent it?
Condoms can be used to prevent the spread of chlamydia. It is important that they are used correctly every time you choose to have any type of sex, including oral sex.

What can happen if I do not get treated?
If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In women, chlamydia can also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that can lead to infertility and ectopic pregnancy. When untreated in men, chlamydia can lead to pain and swelling in the testicles, as well as sterility.

Who should get tested for it?
The largest percentage of chlamydia cases occur in women between the ages of 15 and 24 and men 20-24. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that all women under the age of 25 who are sexually active be tested yearly for chlamydia. If you have symptoms of chlamydia or think you may have been exposed, stop having sex and get tested as soon as possible. The CDC also suggests that men who have sex with men (MSM) who have engaged in anal sex should be tested for chlamydia each year.

Where can I get tested?
STI testing is available at Student Health Services. Please contact SHS at (617) 353-3575 to find out more about possible fees and appointments. Free STI testing is also available at clinics in the area. Please see our STI Testing Resources for more information.

How can I learn more?

Slang terms: dose, clap, and drip

What is it?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can be passed during any type of sexual contact. It can infect the genitals, anus, or throat.

How would I know if I have it?
You may not know! Most people infected with gonorrhea have no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they can include a burning sensation while urinating and abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina.

How is it treated?
An injection of antibiotics can be used to cure gonorrhea. Both partners should be treated at the same time to prevent reinfection.

How can I prevent it?
Using condoms when engaging in oral, vaginal-penile, or anal sex can reduce the risk of contracting gonorrhea.

What can happen if I do not get treated?
If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Gonorrhea can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women which lead to infertility and ectopic pregnancy. When untreated in men, gonorrhea can lead to infertility.

 

Who should get tested for it?
The largest percentage of gonorrhea cases occur in women between the ages of 15 and 24 and men 20-24. If you have symptoms of gonorrhea or believe you may have been exposed, stop having sex and get tested as soon as possible. A person can also have gonorrhea even if no symptoms are present, so talk with your doctor to decide whether you should be tested.

Where can I get tested for it?
STI testing is available at Student Health Services. Please contact SHS at (617) 353-3575 to find out more about fees and appointments. Free STI testing is also available at clinics in the area. Please see our STI Testing Resources for more information.

How can I learn more?

Common names: genital warts, cervical dysplasia, cervical cancer

What is it?
HPV (Human papillomavirus) is a virus that is spread through any type of sexual contact and can infect both men and women. Skin to skin contact can transmit this infection and shaving may increase the risk for acquisition and spreading of the infection. HPV can infect the genitals, anus, or throat and can lead to warts or cancer.

How would I know if I have it?
Most people with HPV do not show any symptoms. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, small bumps around the genitals and anus. Other types of HPV cause cancer and do not show symptoms until the cancer has progressed. The most common types of cancer associated with HPV are cervical, vulvar, and vaginal. A Pap Smear is a screening test that can detect pre-cancerous and cancerous processes caused by HPV. Cervical cancer screening is recommended for women starting at age 21.

How is it treated?
HPV cannot be cured because it is a virus. However, there are effective treatments for HPV. Genital warts can be removed or treated with topical medicines. Abnormalities found during a pap smear can also be treated by a gynecologist so as not to allow the abnormalities to progress. However, both of these methods treat the symptoms of HPV and do not cure it. Some people with healthy immune systems may shed the virus over time. However, it is difficult to know if and when this may happen, so if you have been diagnosed it is safest to assume you have it and may spread it, particularly in the first few years after diagnosis.

How can I prevent it?
There are many different strains of HPV which cause different symptoms. The HPV vaccine, which is available for men and women, can protect against two types of HPV that are responsible for 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women under age 26 and men under age 21 get the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active. The HPV vaccine is available through Student Health Services, please call (617) 353-3575 for more information. Condoms are also effective in reducing the risk of contracting HPV, but it can still be passed in areas not covered by condoms.

Who should get tested for it?
HPV is one of the most common STIs – about 50% of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point during their lifetime. There is no generic test for all forms of HPV. The results of some tests, such as a PAP test, can be used to diagnose HPV in women. Talk to your doctor if you believe you may have HPV.

Where can I get tested for it?
STI testing is available at Student Health Services, including Pap Tests. Please contact SHS at (617) 353-3575 to find out more about fees and appointments. Free STI testing is also available at clinics in the area. Please see our STI Testing Resources for more information.

What can happen if I do not get treated?
If left untreated, genital warts will not turn into cancer. However, other types of HPV infections can lead to cervical cancer and other types of cancer.

How can I learn more?

What is it?
Herpes is a viral infection that can be transmitted during any type of sexual contact. It can infect any part of the body, but most commonly is found on the genitals, mouth, and lips. There are two types of the herpes virus: Herpes Simplex type 1 and type 2.

How would I know if I have it?
Herpes simplex virus type 1 causes cold sores and fever blisters, most commonly around the mouth. Herpes simplex virus type 2 causes genital sores and blisters. Herpes can be found anywhere on the body if there is contact with either type of virus.

There is a risk of cross transmission with both herpes type 1 and type 2. For example, a person with an active sore on their mouth can transmit the virus to their partner’s genitals and a person with an active sore on their genitals can transmit the virus to their partner’s mouth, most commonly during oral sex. These sores can come and go throughout one’s lifetime. 

How is it treated?
There is no cure for the herpes virus. However, medications can help reduce the number of outbreaks, treat symptoms, and reduce the chance of spreading herpes to sexual partners.

How can I prevent it?

  • Using condoms or another protective barrier every time you engage in sexual activity can reduce the risk of spreading herpes, but does not eliminate the chance. Avoid sexual contact (even with a condom or oral damn!) if sores are present on you or a partner because herpes can spread from areas not covered by a condom. There can be shedding of the herpes virus even when an outbreak is not present and it occurs more frequently than previously thought.
  • Avoid kissing when you or a partner has a cold sore on the mouth. Also avoid sharing personal items that go near your mouth with someone who has a cold sore. Herpes can spread through items such as straws, drink containers, and lip balm.

Who should be tested for it?
1 in 6 people aged 14-49 have herpes simplex type 2. Most herpes infections do not require treatment as an outbreak usually resolves in 10-14 days. For those with recurrent genital herpes, daily medication can reduce but not eliminate asymptomatic shedding of the virus and potentially reduce frequency of outbreaks. If you see sores on your body, contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment options.

Where can I get tested for it?
Most diagnosis is done through clinical observation of the lesions. If the diagnosis is not definitive then testing for the virus can be done. STI testing and visits with a physician are available at Student Health Services. Please contact SHS at (617) 353-3575 to find out more about possible fees or schedule an appointment. Free STI testing is also available at clinics in the area. Please see our STI Testing Resources for more information.

 

What can happen if I do not get treated?
If left untreated, herpes can lead to an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Studies have shown that people with Herpes simplex virus type 2 are at least twice as likely to get HIV as those without the infection.

 

How can I learn more?

What is it?
HIV, the Human immunodeficiency virus, is an infection that weakens the immune system. If someone is infected with HIV, their body will make antibodies to fight it. Those who have HIV antibodies in their blood are called “HIV-Positive.” HIV can be spread through any type of sexual contact, as well as contact with blood from a person with HIV.

AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is caused by HIV. “Acquired” means someone can get infected with it, “Immune Deficiency” means a weakness in the body’s system that fights diseases, and “Syndrome” means a group of health problems that make up a disease.

How would I know if I have it?
Many people with HIV do not show symptoms until their immune system is weakened by the virus. Early symptoms include swollen glands, fever, headache, and body aches. These symptoms go away after a few weeks, even though the HIV virus does not. People infected with HIV may show symptoms years after they are infected. These symptoms are usually related to the infections they develop as a result of a weakened immune system.

How is it treated?
While there is currently no cure for either infection, there are effective treatments that can slow the progress of HIV and delay the development of AIDS.

How can I prevent it?

  • Using condoms or another protective barrier every time you engage in sexual activity can reduce the risk of getting HIV. It is also important not to share personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, or tattoo and needles to avoid infection.
  • If you believe you have been exposed to HIV, you should seek medical attention immediately (your doctor’s office or emergency department). Some medications can prevent HIV infection if they are taken soon after exposure. The critical window is 48 – 72 hours for Post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a strategy that involves the use of antiretroviral medications (ARVs) to reduce the risk of HIV infection via sexual exposure. PrEP is one of the options being tested now as part of the effort to identify additional tools to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Generally PrEp is used regularly by those who know that they will have a high risk of exposure to HIV ahead of time.

Who should be tested for it?
Everyone aged 13-64 should be tested for HIV at least once. Surprisingly, HIV is becoming increasingly common among college students. You should be tested yearly if you engage in unprotected oral, vaginal-penile, or anal sex or have been diagnosed with another STI.

Where can I get tested for it?
HIV tests are available at Student Health Services. Please contact SHS at (617) 353-3575 to find out more about possible fees and appointments. Free HIV testing is also available at clinics in the area. Please see our STI Testing Resources for more information. Fenway Health is nearby campus and offers an array of services like HIV counseling, testing and support for those who are newly diagnosed.

 

What can happen if I do not get treated?
If left untreated, there is an increased risk of cancer and other infections that may be fatal due to a weakened immune system. If not treated, HIV advances to AIDS, which is a fatal disease.

How can I learn more?

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender (LGBT) may be at greater risk for certain sexually transmitted infections (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1, 2). For gay and bisexual men, for example, HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis are of particular concern. Among men who have sex with men (MSM), the rate of new HIV diagnoses is more than 44 times that of other men (CDC).

For information on sexual health risks and prevention specific to the LGBTQ community, please see these resources:

The following resources may also be helpful for talking about sexual health and other concerns with a provider:

For more information on these & other STIs, check out MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life, GYT.org’s Low Down on Common STIs, Planned Parenthood, Fenway Health’s Safer Sex handout, or the Centers for Disease Control fact sheets on STIs.