This research investigated to which extent students are tested for sexually transmittable infections (STIs). We also explored their motivations for getting tested (or not), as well as their knowledge and attitudes on STI-testing.
An online questionnaire was completed by 2274 students (between 19 and 23 years old), following a bachelor education in Leuven (Belgium).
The majority of the students (77%) had sexual intercourse without a condom, during six months prior to the study. Within this group, a minority of 31% were tested on STIs at least once in their lifetime. A significant positive relationship existed between worrying about having contracted an STI and taking an STI test. Even within the subgroup of worried students (16%), only a minority did get tested (36%).
A majority of students considered it “likely” to contract an STI when having unprotected sex with a new sex partner. An STI was expected to be painful, shameful, and even “terrible”. Most students desired more information on STI testing.
Significant differences existed between men and women in key disadvantages of getting tested on STIs. Young women were reported embarrasment during the test and aversion for inspection of their genitals and/or questions about their sex life. Female respondents attached more importance to the gender of the doctor being female.
Young men were more bothered by practical issues, like the time and money an STI test would require. Male respondents attached less importance to an STI test as long as long as symptoms were absent.
We conclude that a substantial proportion of the students that would benefit from an STI test, do not get tested. More support to overcome practical and emotional barriers against STI-testing is required. There was a gender difference observed in the kind of support needed.
- Testing barriers
- Testing behaviour
- Young adult students