More than 40% believed STIs did not pose long-term health effects and 60% were reluctant to attend a college health clinic about it.
The findings are contained in a survey of 419 students attending the University of Limerick, conducted between July and August 2012.
While almost all of sex-ually active students used contraception, seven out of 10 had experienced penetrative vaginal sex without a condom in the previous two years.
About 56% of the respondents were female, 78% were undergraduates, and 74% were aged 18-24.
Three quarters of students said they remembered receiving sexual education in secondary school.
More than eight out of 10 said they found the education to be useful, with females finding it more beneficial than male students.
About 90% of students said they were sexually active, with 11% of males reporting sexual intimacy with other males, the respective figure for females standing at 5%.
The authors, a team from the UL medical school, said that “of concern” was the finding that 3% of respondents believed it was impossible to become pregnant when having sex for the first time.
Main findings include:
- 44% believed that while STIs may be embarrassing, such infections do not pose a long-term health risk;
- 10% of sexually active students have experienced STIs;
- 86% have engaged in oral sex without condoms;
- 69% have had vaginal sex without condoms;
- 19% have had anal sex without condoms.
Despite the high levels of unprotected sex, more than eight out of 10 said sex without a condom was “irresponsible”.
Published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, the research found that other forms of contraception were cited as reasons not to have used condoms.
About one fifth said that alcohol or drug consumption had resulted in inadequate lack of condom use.
The survey, publicised by the Health Research Board, found that nearly a quarter had attended a family planning clinic, sexual health clinic or a GP for advice. But almost six out of 10 were reluctant to attend the college health clinic.
The internet was most frequently used for sexual health information, followed, by some distance, by peers.
The researchers said the finding that alcohol/drugs were not the greatest factors in lapsed sexual practices mirrored some previous studies describing “relatively benign associations” between responsible alcohol use and safe sexual activity.
Concluding, the report said: “Young people do not always have the information needed for them to take responsibility for their sexual health.
“In this study, medical services and information resources provided by the university were available, but large numbers of students were unaware or uncomfortable accessing them.”