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Dear Sexpert,

I have recently become sexually active now that I am in college, but I have not been using any protection because my friend told me that Princeton is an STI-free environment. Am I safe from STIs? I am on the pill, so I am not worried about getting pregnant.

-Rather Be Safe Than Sorry


Dear Safe,

In general, you are only safe from contracting sexually-transmitted infections when you use a physical barrier during sexual activities, such as a condom or a dental dam. That said, these methods of protection are not fail-safe, but they are the most effective means of protecting yourself. You are at risk for contracting an STI any time you engage in sexual activity, whether oral, vaginal or anal intercourse, so using protection is a good idea.

You should know that one in four American adults has an STI, but many don’t know they have one because they do not exhibit any physical symptoms. The most common STIs on college campuses, including on Princeton's campus, are genital warts, chlamydia and herpes. There has been at least one case of every STI found in the U.S. here in the Princeton student body. Even if you think your sexual partner looks “clean,” it is entirely possible that they have an STI and may not even know it. Most bacterial STIs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, are relatively easy to cure with antibiotics if the condition is diagnosed early enough. However, STIs caused by viruses are much more difficult to treat and, even once treated, can flare up again.

Some STIs can be transmitted even if you are using a barrier. Herpes and HPV, for example, can be passed through skin-to-skin contact, so intercourse is not necessary for transmission. Genital warts are caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus, which you may know as HPV. Similar to herpes and other viral infections, the transmission of genital warts may not be fully prevented by using a condom because lesions can occur in areas not shielded by a condom.

If you suspect that you may have contracted an STI, you should not hesitate to visit Sexual Health and Wellness Services at University Health Services (UHS) in McCosh. If you are diagnosed with an STI, the health care professionals at UHS can help you seek the appropriate means of treatment, and UHS also offers Counseling and Psychological Services in order to help you cope with potential feelings of shame, anger or guilt regarding your condition. It is important to learn to move past a diagnosis of an STI and not let it negatively impact other aspects of your life.

Sex can be fun and safe! Make sure you are protected.

- The Sexpert


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