Student STIs: Are Universities Doing Enough to Combat STIs?

K based online doctor, Zava has found students have unprotected sex an average of 12 times during their years at university.

  • 87% of students feel their university could do more to promote good sexual health
  • 47% of students say they are put off from taking an STI test out of embarrassment
  • Over 250,000 students in the UK aren’t sure where to go if they think they have an STI
  • 42% of UK universities analysed don’t have a webpage to help students learn more about STIs
  • 66% of universities analysed don’t have sexual health clinics open on weekends
Contents of this article

September 2019: Zava, the online doctor service, has analysed 50 of the UK's most populated universities, as well as surveying 1,001 UK students, to understand which universities are offering the best and worst sexual health services. The study identified that 87% of students feel their university could do more to promote good sexual health.

Zava's new interactive tool aims to show current and prospective students just how good or bad sexual health services are at each university.

With 2.3 million students in higher education institutions across the UK and 1.8 million of those being full-time students [1], the need for universities to provide good sexual health services is certainly something people should be thinking about.

According to new data, an average student in the UK has unprotected sex 12 times during their time at university, with students studying in Bristol almost doubling (22) the national average. This perhaps explains why Public Health England’s recent report highlighted that over 1.3 million chlamydia tests were taken by 15-to-24-year-olds in 2018, with over 131,000 testing positive, equalling to 359 diagnoses per day [2].

What services are universities offering?

Zava’s analysis found the top two performing universities to be the University of Liverpool and Swansea University, with Liverpool coming out as the best for sexual health services.

Liverpool scored highly based on the quality and availability of information online, as well as the locations and operating hours of clinics. Liverpool offers both an onsite sexual health service and one that allows walk-ins, giving students easy access to services and support.

While Liverpool scored highly for its available online information, Zava’s analysis discovered that of the 50 universities analysed, 21 lacked any detailed STI information or specific sexual health support pages for students. Both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leeds websites lacked any detailed information on sexual health.

It is not just online that students appear to be missing out, with 87% of students surveyed saying their university should do more to promote good sexual health. This is also reflected in 14% of students feeling that their university does not offer good access to sexual health services, such as access to a nurse, free condoms and STI test kits.

What's more, 11% of students - over 250,000 students nationally - say they wouldn’t know where to go to get checked, rising to 26% for students in Belfast. But, based on Zava’s analysis of sexual health clinic availability at universities, who’s to blame them for not knowing where to get checked out?

33 of the UK’s largest universities don’t have a sexual health clinic that is open on weekends and just 12 have one that is open in the evenings. Meaning, students that have little free time between their lectures Monday to Friday can struggle to find an opportunity to seek help.

Additionally, all of the university clinics surveyed are open less than regular office hours and over a third (34%) don’t have regular opening hours, reducing the time students can hope to be seen.

Of the 50 universities analysed, almost half have off-site clinics available for students. Meaning students would need to leave their campus to get tested and consider how they would travel to the clinic. Even those that have access to on-site clinics might struggle to get seen, with 13 of the 27 onsite university clinics not accepting drop-ins.

Why are students still likely to put off getting tested?

The lack of sexual health services and awareness promoted by universities goes someway to explaining why students aren’t getting tested.

According to Zava’s survey, almost half (47%) of students are put off getting tested because they’re worried about the embarrassment of being in front of a doctor or nurse, 1 in 3 (32%) are worried about being seen by peers, and a quarter (25%) are put off getting tested out of fear for what the test results might say.

Our analysis of 50 of the UK’s top universities shows that many students are lacking both virtual and physical access to sexual health information and resources from their universities. Not only does this prevent students who may already have STIs getting treatment, but can lead to them unknowingly spreading infections.

While universities should look to educate and provide access to sexual health services for their students, students also need to take some precautions of their own. As our data shows, the average university student will have unprotected sex 12 times during their studies. This puts them at risk of catching an STI as well as spreading an STI they’ve already got.

— Dr Kathryn Basford, GP at Zava comments

To coincide with Sexual Health Week (which begins on 16 September), Zava is giving away a free Hanx condom with the first 1000 orders placed that week.

Condoms are the only form of contraception that protect against STIs, which is why it was crucial to create a condom that is enjoyable to use. Our condoms are ultra thin, silky smooth and clean scented, making for a more pleasurable experience. We’re very pleased to be included in Zava’s initiative, encouraging 1,000 patients to be safe and sexually fulfilled.

— Of the partnership Dr Sarah Welsh from HANX said

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