Safe sex and STDs: How much do international students really know?

As a young student studying overseas and away from home, you will likely find yourself in a relationship which may become intimate.

But have you given serious thought about how much you know about your partner and how you can keep yourself safe from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? We look further into STDs and how much international students actually understand.

Do international students understand STDs?

We recently conducted a survey of 36 students from Trinity College Foundations Studies. Surprisingly, only around 50 per cent said they know enough to keep themselves safe and 24 per cent barely had any knowledge about it.

According to a Trinity student from Indonesia, the topic is not discussed at all in her conservative family and is considered taboo. She also mentions that she did not learn very much about sexual intercourse or STDs in school as it was “just a chapter in the textbook”.

In many countries, sexual health is not addressed in schools and most parents regard it as inappropriate to talk about. This leaves students vulnerable to misinformation and creates a lack of understanding around STDs. Other factors that can lead to STD contractions may be include an inability to obtain contraceptives. In an interview with The Age, Budi Sudarto from the HIV AIDS Council also spoke about students feeling too afraid to buy condoms.

Additional cultural and language barriers also leave international students at higher risk as they are less likely to understand sexual health or to seek help after they’ve been affected by an STD.

So, what are STDs?

Sexually Transmitted Diseases can only be spread through infected body fluids or skin and it is rare for STDs to be passed on without having vaginal, anal or oral sex. Often times, international students may not even be aware of STDs or what to do when they have contracted it. STDs can also be passed on between same sex intercourse and the rates tend to be higher for men.

However, in contrast to what most may think, most STDs are easily treatable. Some STDs such as Chlamydia, Cancroid, and Gonorrhoea can be treated by taking antibiotics.

Preventing STDs

An interview with the Trinity College Foundation Studies nurse, Cate Charles, revealed some important tips for students to keep in mind.

Firstly, the best way to prevent yourself from contracting an STD is using barriers during sexual intercourse such as condoms. Birth control and other contraceptives are only used to prevent pregnancy, not the transferring of STDs.

Another important thing young students should keep in mind should they engage in sexual intercourse is to take the Gardasil vaccine, especially for girls as it works as vaccine against HPV and can protect them from 70 per cent of cervical cancers. It is recommended that the first dose of this vaccine is given at the age of 11.

What should I do now?

Even though you may not be sexually active, it is best if you get tested in your local hospitals as some STDs do not have any symptoms.

One of the hospitals in Melbourne CBD that you can visit is the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic Centre which is located at 580 Swanston St. If you experience anything unusual, immediately get it checked out.

For those of you who are sexually active, be sure to get to know your partner first and get them and yourself examined. If by chance any of you do have STDs, it is important that it gets treated as early as possible. Do not be afraid to ask questions or demand the use of condoms to protect yourself.


This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via meld@meldmagazine.com.au.

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