College is a place to try new experiences and take away new things.
But some students leave college with more than they bargained for -- like a sexually transmitted infection, or STI.
College-aged people are among the most at-risk demographic for contracting STIs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates there are 19 million new sexually transmitted infections each year -- nearly half of which occur among people aged 15 to 24.
Want to make sure you`re STI-free? You can get tested at these locations:
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains
Where: 2525 Arapahoe Ave, Suite C-200, Boulder
Wardenburg Health Center
Where: 1900 Wardenburg Drive, CU campus
Part of the problem is that the negative stigma slapped on STIs hushes important conversations that could prevent the spread of infections between sexual partners, said Monica McCafferty, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which serves four western states, including Colorado.
"It is crucial that for college students who are sexually active, or thinking about being sexually active, that fear or embarrassment do not become a health risk," McCafferty said.
"You have to start the conversation."
Obstacles like embarrassment and shame not only hinder open sexual communication between partners, but that lack of understanding of where or how to receive sexual health medical treatment and perceived risk of confidentiality during medical visits often curbs the number of people of who seek STI treatment.
Derek Miles, a 20-year-old University of Colorado pre-journalism major, said he`s known friends and college peers who`ve propagated STIs` negative image by using STIs as the meat in jokes and ways to make fun of others.
McCafferty worries that such antics quiet up conversations between sexually actives couples and partners and heighten the risk of spreading infections.
National data suggests unclear sexual communication is linked to the fact that 15- to 24-year-olds make up only one quarter of the nation`s sexual population, but account for nearly half of new STIs contracted each year, McCafferty said.
Anne Schuster, Wardenburg Health Center`s Community Health department coordinator, said de-stigmatizing STIs on college campuses and at CU is a primary component of the department`s primary STI prevention tactic.
Community Health is a division of Wardenburg that strives to bring health awareness and education to students.
"Knowing that if you can de-stigmatize some of these issues, you help people access resources and people to take care of themselves and have better conversations about their
own sexual health with
their partner and partners," Schuster said.
This year, in hopes to reduce stigma and boost overall sex education, the Community Health department is re-introducing "Sex Health 101" -- a brief sex course offered to students by health professionals in the college residences including condom demonstrations, contraceptive education and common modes of STI transmission.
Tools and resources
Several other community-oriented programs already in place aim to provide sexually active individuals with tools and resources to bolster safe sex education.
Both Planned Parenthood and Wardenburg Health Center, CU`s on-campus health facility, offer free condoms to students as well as STD screening.
Wardenburg also offers free HIV testing and counseling to students on Monday and Tuesday evenings during the regular school year. The time is still to be determined.
The bottom line, though, has never changed, McCafferty said. If you choose to be sexually active, your best chance of not contracting an STI is to "get the conversation started. Get tested. You are ensuring a safer sexual experience for both you and your partner if you do."
Many sexually active people already follow that wisdom. According to the most recent Planned Parenthood annual reports, 20- to 24-year-olds comprise the majority of Planned Parenthood visits each year, accounting for roughly 35 percent of total clinic visits over the past five years.
Within the same time frame, the number of STI testing screens has increased. In 2008, Planned Parenthood administered more than 53,900 STI tests, up about 36 percent from roughly 39,500 in 2005.
Though sexual intercourse and skin-on-skin contact is the primary way STIs are transmitted, at least one CU student warns to be health-conscious in more than just the bedroom.
Warts and all
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common STIs, according to the American Social Health Association. The virus comprises more than 100 different strains, including about 30 sexually transmitted variations. Many of the strains show no symptoms or lie dormant. Others cause warts on parts of the body like hands and feet.
"All warts are HPV no matter where they are," said recent CU graduate Amanda Bender, 22, who developed warts on her feet likely from the gym locker room floor or yoga studio. "People get warts all the time, like one wart on their hand. It`s all the same. It`s just different strains."
Bender, who`s been battling her vexing warts with freeze treatments most of the summer, gave CU students a bit of advice: "Always wear shoes in common areas where you might go barefoot, dorm bathrooms, common use swimming pools at the Rec Center. Plantar warts are usually in wet places, when people are just getting out of the shower and they leave their strains all over the place."