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Risk taking behaviour linked to STIs in students

Sexual health

Sexual health

Having multiple partners and using recreational drugs are associated with an increased risk of STIs in students.

A cross-sectional survey of sexual behaviour and drug use was carried out among students at the University of East Anglia, using a web-based questionnaire. Of the 14,047 students registered for studies in academic year 2005/06, 827 completed the online questionnaire, a response rate of 6%. The median age was 21.

Around a third of both sexes were single and without a regular partner and just over half were single and with a partner.

The vast majority of both sexes, 95%, reported alcohol use with only one in ten reporting drinking more than four drinks in a session. Drug use was reported in more than half the respondents of both sexes, 60% of men and 51% of women, but men were more likely to have used any drug in the previous month, 51% compared with 38%.

The majority of the sample reported heterosexual behaviour (71% of men and 56% of women), more women reported bisexual preference (42% vs 23%) and more men reported homosexual behaviour (5.7% vs 1.2%). Women reported more STI testing for chlamydia than men (39% vs 21%) and were more likely to report ever having had an STI (9.6% vs 4.6%). Around a quarter of both sexes had undergone HIV testing.

Factors associated with a diagnosis of an STI were: increasing age, number of sexual partners ever, female gender (adjusted odds ratio 2.70, 95% CI, 1.31- 5.56) and use of crack (AOR 10.45, 95% CI 1.46-75.16).

For female respondents the risk factors were: increasing age and higher number of partners.

For male respondents the risk factors were: having sex with men (bisexual AOR 4.8, 95% C1 1.02-22.595, homosexual AOR 17.66, 95% CI 3.03-103.04) and use of crack (AOR 32.24, 95% CI 3.33-312.08).

There are many practices in the UK which have large numbers of students in their registered population. Although the response rate was low, it helps to confirm that apart from contraception and mental health, STIs and drug history should be routinely discussed in consultations with students.

Vivancos R, Abubakar I, Hunter PR Sex, drugs and sexually transmitted infections in British university students Int J STD & AIDS 2008; 19: 370-377


Dr Richard Ma
GP principal, North London and staff grade in sexual and reproductive health, Margaret Pyke Centre, London

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