Where Can I Get Tested?
The Student Health and Wellness Center at Hopkins provides testing for several common STIs, including gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV. They also provide the HPV vaccine. Refer to this page for more info. Getting tested here for these STIs are free with the Hopkins insurance plan once a year!
“I Want The Kit” (IWTK) is a free self-screening kit that is sent to your home and then mailed out for testing. Tests for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and HIV. Only for Maryland/DC/Alaska residents
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Prevention
STI (sexually transmitted infection) also known as an STD, is when a virus/bacteria/parasite is passed between people through unprotected sexual interactions. This includes oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse.
Most STIs are curable through treatment, but there are a handful that are not. All STIs can be treated an managed with guidance from a physician. If not managed, some STIs, such as HIV, can be deadly or create long lasting health issues. Check out this Mayo Clinic page for more general information.
You can get an STI no matter who you sleep with (and no matter what kind of sex you are engaging in). So be sure to get tested!
If you would like to see a general outline of what birth control and STI prevention methods you should take before, during, and after sex, check out the Sex Checklist on the LGBTQA+ page.
What are the most common STIs college students get?
Syphilis, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, HIV, trichomoniasis, human papillomavirus (HPV) are the most common. Refer to this CDC webpage for more information on the statistics of each STI in young adults.
HPV is the most common STI. There were about 43 million HPV infections in 2018, many among people in their late teens and early 20s. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems ranging from genital warts to cancers. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus (but is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex). HPV can be transmitted even if an infected individual has no symptoms; in fact, not all HPV strains manifest symptoms in people with the virus. So it's even more important to use a barrier method if you and your partner(s) did not get the HPV vaccine.
What are the symptoms? How would I know if I have an STI?
There are a range of potential symptoms that can occur (including none at all). Usually they appear within a few days of exposure, but some may only develop noticeable symptoms after months. Most of the symptoms listed are in the groin area, however some STIs (like Hepatitis, HIV, or Syphilis) can affect other specific areas of the body especially if left untreated. These diseases may additionally manifest in general, flu-like symptoms (fever, fatigue, nausea to name a few) aren’t localized to the groin area. If you think you have any of these symptoms, the only way to know for sure if it is an STI is to get tested.
Sores or bumps in/on the genitals/rectal area/oral area
Unusual, odd-smelling genital discharge
Unusual vaginal bleeding
Pain during sex
Swollen, sore lymph nodes in the groin area
Here is more information on specific symptoms for each STI.
This table shows the range of how long symptoms may take to appear in different STIs (Source: Verywell Health)
What do I do if I think I have an STI?
If you think you may have an STI, get tested and abstain from having any type of sex until you know for sure. Getting tested is some type of fluid or urine test, or potentially blood.
If you test positive for an STI(s), your provider will most likely provide an antibiotic for you to take. During this treatment and for seven days after finishing, you should abstain from any type of sexual intercourse. For herpes and HIV, viral infections, there is technically no cure. However, you will be prescribed certain antiviral drugs to keep your viral count low. This reduces the likelihood that you can transmit the disease, although there will always be some level of virus in your body. It is completely possible to have a healthy an enjoyable sex life as someone with such infections when managed properly!
It is uncomfortable, but if you test positive for an STI you should inform all of your recent sexual partners. It’s the decent thing to do, so they can proceed getting tested and potentially treated.
How do I prevent getting and transmitting an STI?
STI prevention is very important to take into account when sexually active, just like birth control. When having sex, STIs are manageable through utilizing barrier methods, such as condoms. These create a physical barrier between you and your partner(s). You and/or your partner(s) have to wear them every time you engage in intercourse. This includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Another type of barrier method that is used to prevent STI transmission during oral sex is called a dental dam (see this CDC page for more information), which simple goes between the entrance of the vagina or anus during oral sex, like an external condom and penis.
However, if you and your partner(s) have both gotten tested for all STIs (and are either exclusive or consistently having protected sex with other people), then it is safer to have unprotected sex without the risk of passing on an STI (but still use birth control if you do not want to get pregnant!)
Getting tested is very important because some STIs can be asymptomatic, so someone may think it is fine to have unprotected sex when they are actually contagious. When requesting an STI test from your physician, be sure to ask for it to be as comprehensive as possible. Urine tests or swabs do not cover all possible STIs. This is also why it is highly recommended to use a condom or another type of barrier method in a random/casual hookup even if you are already using birth control.
During sexual intercourse of any kind, it is important to use barrier methods in order to minimize transmission. Barrier methods can both prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STIs when used properly. Refer to the barrier method section in the Birth Control page for more information on external and internal condoms.
Individuals that are sexually active are recommended to get STI tested somewhat regularly, about once a year, even if they are in an exclusive relationship where everyone has already been screened and are continuously asymptomatic. Certain groups of people are more at-risk for getting an STI than others, and may need to get tested more often. The CDC recommends that everyone gets tested for HIV at least once in their young adult life, individuals who identify as women should get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea once a year, and that sexually active gay and bisexual men should get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis 1-2 times a year.
To prevent getting HPV, get the HPV vaccine! The HPV vaccine is offer to individuals starting at around 11-12 years of age. If you don't know if you are vaccinated, talk with your parent(s) or guardian(s) or your current physician to see if they have a record. If you did not get the HPV vaccine as a preteen you can still get vaccinated. If you already have HPV, the vaccine will not get rid of the infection; however, it will protect you against other strains. If you have a cervix, make sure to get a papsmear (also called a pap test) starting at 21 years of age.