Photo of different colored condom packages on a hot pink background.

Whether you’re in a relationship, hooking up or staying single, knowing how to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can help you stay healthy and safe. 

Here are a few things everyone should know about STIs. 

1. What are STIs?

STIs are infections that pass from one person to another through sexual activities, including oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex, genital contact or sexual fluids like semen. These types of infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.

2. How common are STIs?

Sexually transmitted infections are more common than you may think. 

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 5 people in the U.S. has an STI. Young adults ages 14 to 25 are also at an increased risk of contracting an STI.

Some of the most common STIs among college students include:

It’s important to remember that anyone can get an STI, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or number of partners. 

3. Are they preventable?


Sex is better when you don’t have to worry about contracting STIs. Here are a few safer sex practices you can use to protect yourself and your partner.

Use protection

While contraceptives and birth control can help prevent pregnancy, they do not protect against sexually transmitted infections. 

Using physical barriers like condoms and dental dams can help reduce your contact with sexual fluids, which can spread STIs. For the best protection, it’s important to use a barrier every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex.

If you use sex toys, wash them properly according to the manufacturer’s instructions before using them on another person. You can also use condoms with sex toys for added protection. Just remember to change the condom before using it on another person.

If you’re not sure how to properly apply a condom or use a dental dam, follow these step-by-step instructions. 

 Pro tip: Wearing two condoms doesn’t double your protection. In fact, they can rub together and create friction, which can cause one or both of the condoms to break or tear. Stay safe and save money by only using one condom at a time.

Get vaccinated

Vaccines are a great way to protect yourself (and your partners) against sexually transmitted infections caused by certain viruses. Currently, there are vaccines to protect against the following STIs.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Some forms of HPV can cause genital warts, while others can lead to cancer.
  • Hepatitis B (HBV): HBV causes a liver infection that can lead to short-term illness or longer-term health issues, including liver cancer.

Vaccines for HPV and hepatitis B are available to students through Medical Services

Know your sexual partners

Many people may have an STI without even knowing it. This is because the most common symptom is no symptoms at all. Talk with your partner(s) about your sexual history and test results. New sexual partners may come with new risks, so it’s important to continue to practice safe sex.

​ Pro tip: Not sure how to talk to your partner about STIs? Check out this article for helpful tips on starting the conversation.

How to discuss STIs with your partner

Get tested (and treated, if necessary)

It’s a good idea for you and your partner(s) to get tested at least once per year, even if you don’t have any symptoms of an STI. Try to get tested between partners, preferably before you start having oral, anal or vaginal sex.

If you’ve had sex and are worried that you may have been exposed to an STI, it’s important to remember that it can take some time before an STI becomes active in your body. Testing too soon can cause you to get inaccurate results. Instead, follow these guidelines for testing:

  • HIV: Get tested after 23 to 90 days
  • Chlamydia: Get tested after 5 days to 2 weeks
  • Gonorrhea: Get tested after 5 days to 2 weeks
  • Syphilis: Get tested after 2 to 3 weeks

If you’re not sure when to get tested or what tests you need, Medical Services can help you determine what is right for you.

Pro tip: If you’re experiencing any symptoms, such as itching, burning or pain, get tested right away.

Additional resources

Students have access to STI testing, free safer sex supplies and more!

Pick up free supplies

Stop by Wardenburg Health Center to pick up free safer sex supplies like condoms, dental dams, lube and more.

  • Health Promotion: 3rd floor Wellness Suite
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health Office: 1st floor check-in area

Buff Boxes

Students living on campus can also get free safer sex supplies like condoms, dental dams and lube delivered directly to their residence halls in discrete packaging.

STI testing

Medical Services provides STI testing by appointment and through drop-in lab services. Tests are available for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

Medical Services provides birth control, long acting reversible contraception, STI testing, annual exams, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing and more through their Sexual and Reproductive Health office. 

Free HIV testing

The Boulder County Aids Project (BCAP) offers free and confidential HIV testing at various community locations around Boulder.

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Sexual violence can have lasting impacts on individuals and communities. Read this article to learn about consent, sexual assault and resources.