According to a 2013 study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the period between the ages of 18 and 25 is defined as “emerging adulthood.” This is a transition period in which individuals no longer feel like adolescents but also don’t yet quite feel like adults. This period is also characterized by one’s acceptance of personal responsibility, including responsibility for one’s own sexual health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as “a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
Sexual Health Knowledge
College students are entering college with limited sexual experience and/or sexual health knowledge. This puts them at an increased risk for unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Individuals of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer) community are facing their own unique obstacles, including an increased risk for sexual assault, according to a new study.
What’s the Problem?
Authors of a 2013 publication by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that “college-aged youth are at increased risk of negative outcomes related to sexual health compared to the rest of the population.” While nearly 64 percent of high school seniors reported already having some sort of sexual experience, approximately 50 percent of individuals admitted that their “sexual debut” occurred during their college years.
One-third of new cases of gonorrhea occur in adults ages 20 - 24
These students are facing a “disproportionate risk of negative health outcomes,” according to the authors of the NIH study. The report found that 29 percent of the specific population was not using condoms and another 11 percent were not using birth control.
The authors stated that with statistics such as these, “it is not surprising that over one-third of new cases of gonorrhea and Chlamydia (both types of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs) occur in young adults between the ages of 20 to 24.”
The CDC attributed the higher prevalence of negative sexual health outcomes in adolescents and young adults to a lack of access to quality resources. In a study conducted by von Sakovsky, results showed that 18 to 28-year-olds did not know where to go or how to find appropriate sexual health resources.
The authors of the NIH publication concluded, “Without access to this information, it is less likely that they will enjoy health sexual relationships, and they may suffer negative academic outcomes that have long-lasting repercussions.”
Sexually Transmitted Infections
New York University published some findings in relation to the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among college students, noting that even though students aged 15 to 24 only represented 25 percent of the sexually experienced population, nearly 50 percent of all STIs are occurring within that age group.
The university also found that “many young people misperceive their vulnerability to infection,” thereby affecting their decisions associated with their sexual behaviors.
“Many young people misperceive their vulnerability to infection, thereby affecting their decisions associated with their sexual behaviors.
- New York University
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that while both young men and young women “are heavily affected” by STIs, young women face the “most serious long-term health consequences,” including infertility affecting an estimated more than 20,000 women each year.
In the same study, gay and bisexual men were found to account for 82 percent of male cases of syphilis. Syphilis can result in visual impairment and stroke if not adequately treated, and it can also put an infected person at increased risk for acquiring and transmitting HIV. The study data concluded that about half of men who have sex with men who are infected with syphilis also have HIV.
Becoming pregnant in college may not only be an unplanned event, but it can also shift a person’s continued academic plans. A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2013 reported that 61 percent of women who have children after enrolling in community college drop out before earning a degree.
Pregnancy & Health
Pregnancy can result in several health conditions including anemia, fetal problems, gestational diabetes, miscarriage, preeclampsia and preterm labor.
Pregnancy can also result in several health conditions to the mother and the baby, including anemia, fetal problems, gestational diabetes, miscarriage (pregnancy loss), preeclampsia (high blood pressure) and preterm labor. Infections, illnesses, smoking and drinking can also cause concerns for the mother and baby during pregnancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several ways to prevent pregnancy, including the use of birth control such as a pill, hormonal IUD (intrauterine device) or implant, patches, shots, vaginal contraceptive rings, diaphragms, condoms, vasectomy (surgical procedure for males) and abstinence.
Once pregnant, a woman can either carry the baby to term or abort the pregnancy. An abortion is a medical procedure that ends the pregnancy by removing the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus by way of surgery or medicine. This procedure also comes with its own physical as well as mental risks and complications.
In 2016, the CDC reported that more than one in three (37 percent) of female rape victims were raped for the first time between the ages of 18 and 24. In a study of undergraduate women, it was also found that 19 percent experienced attempted or completed sexual assault during their time in college.
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., defines sexual assault as “a forcible or non-forcible sexual act or sexual contact that occurs without the consent or permission of the other person.” Sexual assault can include sexual penetration, attempted sexual penetration, or any other sexual act or sexual contact.
Sexual Assault Defined
Sexual Assault is defined as a forcible or non-forcible sexual act or sexual contact that occurs without the consent or permission of the other person.
The CDC reported links between a history of nonconsensual sex in both men and women and certain adverse health conditions, such as high cholesterol, stroke and heart disease. Female victims were more likely to report heart attacks and heart disease than non-victims.
Rape can result in physical as well as mental injury to its victims, with 31.5 of women and just over 16 percent of men reporting physical injuries as a result of rape in 2012. Rape was also found to result in about 32,000 pregnancies annually. An estimated 68 percent of female victims who filed a protective order said they were raped by an intimate partner, with 20 percent reporting a resulting pregnancy.
An article published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in March 2017 stated that previous studies found that “sexual- and gender-minority (LGBTQ+ community) undergraduate students are at greater risk for sexual assault victimization than their [nontransgender] heterosexual peers.”
Authors of the publication found that sexual assault affects 2 to 15 percent of undergraduate students in the U.S., with researchers in 2010 reporting that 5.2 percent of undergraduates who were identified as LGBTQ+ had experienced sexual assault on a college campus.
However, a new study has suggested (not definitively) that the more inclusive the environment, the less likely it is that LGBTQ+ students will experience sexual assault or harassment.
What Can Be Done?
Most agencies and studies on sexual health for college students have determined that this is an area of joint responsibility for both the college campuses and the students. Results of a 2013 study titled College Students’ Sexual Health: Personal Responsibility or the Responsibility of the College? showed that there is a belief that colleges have a responsibility to provide resources, and students have a responsibility to access them.
Did You Know
By making resources and referrals for sexual health available, colleges can better serve students and improve health outcomes.
One participant of the study pointed out that “that’s the purpose of an institution like this, is… education, not just on a school subject level… just on anything on life… sexual awareness is definitely a key component to life and being knowledgeable of that is definitely… something everyone needs to have.” Another participant said, “No one wants to talk about it while you’re growing up because you’re a kid, but once you’re an adult they think you already know it.”
The conclusion was that “by making resources and referrals for sexual health available, colleges can better serve their students, which will result in improved health outcomes.”
The results of the study also showed that across all campuses, students reported that the college had a responsibility to be welcoming of students in the LGBTQ+ community.
Some tips offered by the CDC to engage in safe sex and prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies include:
- Using protection (such as latex condoms)
- Getting tested
- If diagnosed, notifying your partner
- Accessing treatment
- Abstaining from sexual activity
- Committing to a long-term mutually-exclusive (monogamous) relationship
The CDC also recommends knowing the numbers to call for help in instances of sexual assault. Aside from 911, several hotlines and other college resources are available to provide emergency response to students who are victims of sexual violence.