‘Half of sexually active students have never had STI test’


A poll of UK university students has found that half do not know where their nearest sexual health clinic is and more than half have never had a test for a sexually transmitted infection.

An analysis of a poll of 1,004 students, carried out by YouthSight for the Higher Education Policy Institute, with initial results published in April 2021, found that 56 per cent of sexually active students had never had an STI test and only 30 per cent of sexually active students had had a test while at university.

The proportion of students who were very or fairly confident about where to get free condoms at their higher education institution, 47 per cent, was the same as those who were not very or not at all confident, 48 per cent, the polling showed. 

It also found that only half – 51 per cent – of the respondents reported feeling safe the first time they had sex at university. This finding comes in the wake of revelations of sexual violence and harassment at UK universities this year and calls from the Office for Students for urgent action on the issue.

While the majority of students, 78 per cent, were very or fairly confident that sexual health services are confidential and free, when asked if they knew where their nearest services were, only 51 per cent were confident.

According to the research, only 41 per cent of students strongly or slightly agreed that they had received clear health education information about the availability of local sexual health services while at university, with a third strongly or slightly disagreeing.

Just one in 10 – 9 per cent – reported receiving any education about sex and relationships while at university. However, only 27 per cent of students reported that their education at school had prepared them for sex and relationships at university and 43 per cent reported that they had not had sex before starting university.

The authors of the report write that it “is important that sexual health and contraceptive services are advertised clearly and easily across a range of student health and wellbeing platforms”.

“Given the increasing numbers of sexual infections, emphasising free access to condoms is critical, along with enhancing knowledge, attitudes, skills and habits of using condoms for sexual infection prevention, not simply as a method of contraception,” they write.

Helen Marshall, chief executive of the sexual health charity Brook, said the research “sheds valuable light on the diversity of students’ knowledge and experience of sex and relationships”, and showed that there were still clear gaps in young people’s education on the topic.

“More needs to be done to normalise STI testing,” she added. “Universities have an important role to play in empowering students to manage their sexual health and well-being.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com



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