About sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – sometimes called "sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)" – are usually caused by bacteria or viruses, and are typically passed from one person to another during sexual contact. Most commonly, STIs are spread during unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse. However, some infections – like HPV and herpes – require only skin-to-skin contact.
Most common STIs
STIs are very common – approximately one in four college students has an STI. HPV, chlamydia, and herpes are the most common STIs among college students. Our sexual health fact sheet provides a comprehensive overview of common infections, including prevalence, symptoms, and treatment options.
The good news is that treatment is available for all STIs. However, some STIs are not curable, including HPV and herpes.
STI symptoms might include sores, bumps, discharge, painful urination, or pain or discomfort during sex. However, some people with an STI have no symptoms, or very mild symptoms.
It's important to know that STIs can be transmitted even when symptoms are not present.
When to get tested
If you have symptoms ...
You should schedule an appointment as soon as possible to be evaluated by a clinician to determine the cause of your symptoms, and to receive medical treatment, if necessary. Some STIs can cause serious health problems if they are not treated.
If you don’t have symptoms ...
Many people with STIs don't have any symptoms. If you're sexually active, or you're considering having sex with a new partner, it’s important to know your STI status in order to protect yourself and sexual partners. Testing is especially important if you've had unprotected sexual contact, or if you find out a sexual partners has an STI.
You can speak with a sexual health nurse at Cornell Health about recommended testing based on your risk factors. For more information, refer to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and Planned Parenthood for testing recommendations.
What happens during testing
Your provider will collect information about your sexual health history and any symptoms or other concerns you might have. Depending on your symptoms (if present) and other risk factors, a provider may:
- Conduct a physical assessment/examination
- Collect a specimen by swabbing your throat, penis, anus, or vagina
- Provide you with instructions to take a urine sample and/or a vaginal or rectal swab
- Send you to the Cornell Health lab for a blood sample
STIs can be bacterial or viral, and there is no one inclusive test, so you will likely be asked to provide several different types of samples to be tested.
Appointments can be scheduled in two ways:
- Online: log in to CornellHealth, click on Appointments > Schedule an appointment, then select "Primary Care (medical clinician or nurse) appointment"
- By phone: call 607-255-5155 during business hours
If you're experiencing symptoms, you will be scheduled with a clinician for an in-person visit.
If you are not experiencing symptoms, you can schedule either an in-person screening appointment or a "virtual visit" as the first step to getting care. (For "virtual visits," you will complete a questionnaire after scheduling your appointment. A nurse will review your questionnaire, and will send you a secure message through myCornellHealth with instructions for next steps, which typically includes coming to Cornell Health for lab work and/or a follow-up in-person appointment.)
Cost of testing
- Preventive STI screenings (no symptoms) with a sexual health nurse are available to students at no cost.
- Students who have symptoms and require a clinician visit have a $10 appointment charge.
Additional testing resources
- Tompkins County Whole Health (Tompkins County's health department) makes free STI testing available to its residents through Planned Parenthood’s Ithaca Health Center.
- Other testing sites in Tompkins County are listed on the TCHD’s website.
You can lower your risk of contracting STIs (and/or unplanned pregnancy) in the following ways:
- Participate in sexual experiences that are respectful, consensual, and affirming
- Talk with your partner about the kinds of sexual experiences you want (and don’t want)
- Assume that any sexual partner has an STI, and plan accordingly for protection
- Visit Cornell Health for safer sex information, supplies, and prescriptions
- Buy safer sex supplies and/or birth control supplies and keep them where they are needed
- Get immunized against Hepatitis A and B, and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) (pdf)
- Consider the risks associated with sex under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs
- Consider the risks associated with sexual activity facilitated by online hook-up apps
- Think about what challenges (if any) make it difficult to maintain your commitment to practicing safer sex, and make plans to circumvent those challenges
- Get support if you feel confused, frustrated, or overwhelmed; Cornell Health staff are available to discuss these and other sexual health issues
To help reduce STI transmission, NY State requires that positive STI tests be confidentially reviewed by the local health department and that assistance with proper treatment be provided to infected individuals and their partner(s).