As freshers' week approaches, experts expect to see a sharp increase in the spread of sexual transmitted infections among young people.
The grim reality of STIs might be the last thing that you want to think about when heading off to university, but it's estimated that 25% of first years in the UK will catch one.
There are a few things that you can do to stay safe.
When you hit the town, of course you want to have fun, but you want to avoid getting so drunk that it impairs your judgement too much. Drinking leads to poor decisions and is negatively associated with condom use.
60% of women who contracted STIs at university were drunk at the time.
You should also never leave a drink unattended, even for a moment. No one knows exactly how common it is to have your drink spiked, but it's a problem that seems to be on the rise. Similarly, stay with your friends and never leave by yourself. If you do, splash out for a taxi home.
Assuming you're having consensual sex with someone who you've only recently met, always wear a condom. According to a recent survey, 15% of under 25s have had unprotected sex with two or more partners. Condoms are free from family planning clinics and many universities in the UK also give them out in their students unions, so there's no excuse. Used correctly, condoms are 98-99% effective in preventing HIV transmission.
If you do have unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, you need to get yourself tested for STIs. Just because you are not experiencing any symptoms does not necessarily mean that you're in the clear. The most common STI among young people, chlamydia, often doesn't give any symptoms at all. The only reliable way to know if you have it is to get tested. Not knowing that you have chlamydia is not only bad news for your next sexual partner; left untreated the STI can have long lasting health implications including infertility.
Some other STIs have more obvious symptoms. The genital sores of the first stage of syphilis might be painless, but they won't go away on their own. Gonorrhoea, meanwhile, can cause pain when urinating as well as genital discharge.
Genital Herpes is another common STI which in many cases, might not give you any symptoms at all. It may cause vaginal discharge, however, as well as small red blisters that leave open sores around the genitals. Although outbreaks generally become less common, and can be managed with medications, there is no cure for genital herpes.
HIV is also well known for not having a cure. Worryingly, 17% of people with HIV don't know that they have it, and yet HIV weakens the immune system and requires lifelong treatment.
So why don't people get themselves tested?
Many people feel embarrassed, or awkward, about going into an NHS clinic. It can also be a struggle just to get an appointment and, with recent cuts to the NHS, access to sexual health clinics is becoming more restricted.
At home tests for many STIs can be purchased quite cheaply from online retailers, but concerns have been raised about the reliability of these tests so they're best avoided. A better alternative is postal testing. With these, you can still do the test in the comfort of your flat, but the sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
The other option is go to a private clinic. You Sexual Health, for instance, offer private STD tests at a number of clinics across the country. If you'd prefer, they also operate a mobile clinic and offer a discrete and accurate postal test.