It’s that time of year again – when students find out if they have a place at their chosen University. David Woods, Director at Last Taboo partner, Humm Media, explores those first few weeks at University and offer advice to make sure you stay sexually safe.

It’s A Level Results week again.

Hundreds of thousands of ambitious young people have just opened their A Level results, found out their grades and are off to take the next step in their lives. Deep breath…

No matter what your results are. Be proud of yourself.

You worked hard and today marks the start of something new and exciting, even if your grades weren’t what you were hoping for. Don’t forget, there are people that can help you secure a place at University,even if you’re not sure about what to do yet.

First things first though. There are still a few weeks of summer left, so make the most of it and take some time out to spend with your friends, before you go your separate ways – or perhaps even take a holiday!

Then comes the exciting part for many – going off to university. Some find it difficult to leave friends and family behind if they’re heading off to uni in another city or country, but there are so many things to look forward to: meeting new people, living away from home, having your own independence, learning about the world, (legally) being allowed to drink, lots of lectures and essays… well maybe not so much the last part.

University is obviously about coursework, studying and getting your chosen degree; but more than that, it’s also a chance to find out what it’s like to live in the world, away from your parents and it’s an opportunity to experiment and try out new things. It’s a chance for you to be the ‘you’ you want to be, with a healthy dose of freedom to express yourself.

Loads of people meet their lifelong, best friends during their Freshers Week at university, so throw yourself into it and get involved in all the mayhem that comes with it.

For loads of Freshers, the first week at university will be a mecca for people who are young free and single and just want to mingle. It’s not uncommon for quite a few Freshers to end up hooking up, away from prying eyes – and if that’s the choice you want to make – on your own terms – that’s fine, but there a few things you should think about before you ‘delve in’.

According to AWARE UK, an organisation committed to breaking stigma around sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, a third of people under 24 don’t think they know enough about how STIs are transmitted. In fact, most people don’t know the symptoms of infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV or herpes – and that’s because a lot of these don’t actually have any visible symptoms.

You might not feel you’ve have had a lot of education about STIs at school or college and there are certainly enough myths going around about them to confuse any one.

Let’s be clear. It’s completely and utterly not true that only ‘trashy’ people catch STIs; it’s also not true that you can’t get an STI from giving or receiving oral sex. You can get an STI from a single encounter – you don’t have to be sleeping around.

It’s also not true that if you had an STI, you would know about it……

Public Health England reports that over 200,000 cases of chlamydia and almost 35,000  cases of gonorrhoea were diagnosed in 2014. It also estimates that more than a quarter of people that have HIV don’t know they have it – that’s an estimated 26,100 people. This unaware group are unknowingly responsible for most of the cases of passing the virus onto other people.

Another common myth is that an STI could mean you will not be able to have children or even worse, could die. Please don’t panic. There are really great treatments available for all STI’s that mean you can live a normal healthy life. But these treatments are most effective when they are started at the right time and there has not been any long term damage done to your health. Left untreated, STIs can cause serious complications later in life, such as infertility and impotence, some may even be fatal.

That is why it is critical to get tested; because if you don’t know, you can’t get treated

Here are two pieces of advice you should always remember:

1. Bag up! Use a condom every time you have sex. Every time; no excuses.

  • It’s not enough for a person to tell you they don’t need to use one;
  • you can’t expect the other person to bring a condom – have one of your own (in date please!);
  • don’t accept excuses (‘I don’t like condoms’ for example). Condoms are the best chance you’ll have of protecting yourself from STIs and if your partner doesn’t want to use protection, chances are they haven’t with other partners – you’ll have to ask yourself is it really worth taking a risk with this person?

2. Get tested.

  • If you’ve taken a risk with your sexual health and didn’t use a condom, don’t panic. The important thing is to get a sexual health screening as soon as you can.
  • If you’re diagnosed with something, you can start treatment right away.
  • You can ask your partner to go too. It’s not scary at all and it’ll be a relief if you get the all clear.

To get tested, you can go to a sexual health clinic, which you can find online or your university will be able to direct you to. There are also home testing kits available for some STI’s such as chlamydia or forHIV testing.

Don’t worry, just be sensible (while having a crazy freshers week) and have fun!

Oh and here’s some useful links you might find helpful if you want to learn more

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Sexandyoungpeople/Pages/Sex-and-young-people-hub.aspx

http://kidshealth.org/teen/sexual_health/stds/std_myths.html#cat20017

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/contraception-guide/Pages/contraception.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/STIs/Pages/STIs-hub.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/STIs/Pages/ExpertAnswers.aspx