College kids avoiding "Jimmy hats"
An alarming number of American college students engage in unprotected sex, but most fail to realize the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, says a recent national survey. Among college students who live away from home, 56 percent had been sexually active while attending college, and 73 percent of that group reported having unprotected sex while in college, says the survey by the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
By Gary Gately
Sept. 3 — An alarming number of American college students engage in unprotected sex, but most fail to realize the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, says a recent national survey.
Among college students who live away from home, 56 percent had been sexually active while attending college, and 73 percent of that group reported having unprotected sex while in college, says the survey by the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
Underscoring widespread ignorance about sexually transmitted diseases, the online survey of 516 students found that 68 percent of those who had unprotected sex did not believe they were at risk of contracting an STD.
And almost half of the sexually active students had never been tested for an STD, even though one in five college students knew someone who has contracted a sexually transmitted disease while in college, according to the survey, which was conducted last spring by Harris Interactive.
“I’m actually troubled by the findings, particularly the one about unprotected sex,” says Helen E. Johnson, co-author of the book Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years.
“I think part of it is people at this age really do feel immortal; they don’t understand that their behavior has real consequences,” says Johnson, who contributed to a free booklet the Society for Adolescent Medicine prepared for parents on ways to help protect children while they’re away at school.
Are Parents, Physicians Partly to Blame?
Johnson says parents often share much of the blame for their college-age kids’ risky behavior.
“I think too many parents today want to be their kids’ friends and — sort of by default, not intentionally — they abrogate that important parental responsibility, which is making it really clear to your kids what your values are,” Johnson says.
“Even though they will act like they’re tuning you out, they hear you, and what I found working with college students is that they really care what their parents think about these things, and they generally don’t know,” she adds.
Charlotte A. Gaydos, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the survey’s findings came as no surprise.
“Kids are having high-risk sexual behaviors, and they are not getting screened,” Gaydos says. “One of the reasons is most of the sexually transmitted diseases are asymptomatic.” She encourages college students to not be shy about asking to be screened.
But Gaydos says physicians also could do more to prevent STDs among young patients.
“Many pediatricians are hesitant to ask whether [their patients] are sexually active,” she says.
She also believes better high school education about STDs would help.
Awareness of Hepatitis B Limited
The survey also found little awareness among students about hepatitis B, which can be spread not only through sex but also through body piercing, tattooing, contact sports and sharing a razor or toothbrush.
Forty percent of college students either have a tattoo or body piercing or are likely to get one or the other before graduating, the survey found, and a third of students admitted to sharing either a razor or toothbrush with a roommate, partner or friend.
But while almost all students surveyed had heard of hepatitis B, more than half were not protected by a vaccine or didn’t know if they were, the survey says.
Hepatitis B — a potentially life-threatening viral liver disease — is one of the few STDs that can be prevented by a vaccine, the Society for Adolescent Medicine says.
In its booklet, the society also recommends that parents:
Review your child’s health history and make sure all medical information is updated.
Make sure your child has appropriate medical insurance and carries a health insurance card. Up to 30 percent of college students have no health insurance, the society says.
Check with your doctor about your child’s immunizations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza, meningococcal meningitis, polio, tetanus-diptheria, chickenpox and measles, mumps and rubella.
Get a tuberculosis skin test for your child if it’s required by the college or recommended by a health care provider.
Have your primary health care provider send the campus information about care, medications and restrictions on activity if your child has chronic medical problems. If a disability requires special accommodations, let the campus disabilities office know.
Check into health resources on and near campus so your child will know about after-hours care, emergency services, pharmacy services and the location of the nearest hospital.
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