Students swap sex, disease

Students swap sex, disease

More UVA students are twisting their tongues around the unfamiliar names of antibiotics like ciprofloxacin and azithromycin these days than they did in years past, and it’s not because they’re going pre-med.

According to Dr. Colin Ramirez, a 17-year veteran of UVA’s Elson Student Health Center (, students in recent years have been increasingly diagnosed with nonspecific urethritis, an inflammation of the urethra often accompanied by painful urination and discharge. These cases are not caused by gonorrhea, syphilis or chlamydia, which can create the same symptoms; instead, Ramirez attributes the rise to a better medical understanding of opportunistic organisms that inhabit the mouth and throat, paired with a rising rate of oral sex among students.

Wrap it up, even for oral sex, docs say. Infections related to oral-genital contact are on the rise among  undergrads.

“There’s been, I think, pretty clear epidemiology pointing toward increased oral sex in middle school and high school,” says Ramirez. “The awareness of that came out five or 10 years ago, and if you think of that cohort moving into the college population, that makes sense.”

A 2005 University of California study strongly suggests that Ramirez is correct, stating that because “adolescents perceive oral sex as less risky, more prevalent and more acceptable than vaginal sex, it stands to reason that adolescents are more likely to engage in oral sex.” Closer to home, a 2003 piece in The Cavalier Daily revealed this little gem: “This is one aspect of college parties that nobody likes to talk about or acknowledge: The accepted protocol of students meeting, perhaps exchanging first names and having unprotected oral sex.”

With oral-genital contact on the rise and the medical revelations that otherwise benign organisms in the mouth and throat may cause irritating urethral infections, what’s a poor undergrad to do? The answer, according to Ramirez, lies in communication and condoms and dental dams.

The alternative is a trip to the pharmacy—and a bigger vocabulary.

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