Dorm Room Confidential

It's 2 AM. Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?

By James Whittall
MenEssentials President
Published September 2006

Dorm Room Confidential

As all students know and most dread, September is back-to-school time. For the college- or university-bound, this often means a new home, maybe in a new town or city, and some fairly hefty revisions to the way you live.

Dormitories, especially, offer their own unique challenges. Yes, you'll meet new people. Yes, you'll expose yourself to new ideas and alternative perspectives. Yes, you'll party. If you're very lucky, you may even give it up in the most benign way imaginable.

You'll also share facilities with hundreds of strangers. Your private time may become negligible, your personal property available to anyone short on necessities. And personal hygiene? Think again. There's a reason infectious skin diseases are epidemic among young adults.

That's why you should remember these important tips for communal living. You'll spend less time worrying about your skin and more time enjoying what should rightly be some of the most engaging moments of your life.

Athlete's Foot

This should go without mention, yet few dorm dwellers give thought to the vermin that live where it's warm and moist. Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is most common in young men – very likely because young men are slobs.

Sorry, but it's the truth. If you're the type who rarely changes his socks, never dries his sweaty feet, or wears shoes so fragrant even flies won’t buzz them, then expect a whole lotta hurtin' twixt your tootsies.

Even if you're fastidiously clean, some other boob will likely traipse through the communal shower with a foot full of fungus, and that spells trouble for everyone who follows in his steps.

A good preventive measure is to wear sandals into any shower or pool area. Change your socks (yes, daily) and wear shoes that breathe. Let your toes out for air while you study or flake out in bed between classes. Make foot powder your new best friend – but avoid starch-based powders. Fungus goes through starch like jocks through pizza.

If you suspect athlete's foot – redness or scaling between the toes, often cheesy in texture with a truly malodorous reek – see your health care provider for treatment.

Cold Sores

What student doesn't love a good drinking game? I remember "Pass the Bottle" from my university days. Five of us would sit in a circle and pass a bottle of hooch between us. Any guy who received the bottle had to take a long, stiff drink.

It wasn't much of a game, come to think of it, and the rules clearly needed refinement. But after fifteen minutes or so, we didn't really care about rules … or even remember what game we were playing, in the first place.

Drinking games are still popular among students, though they're probably more elaborate than the ones we played in the day. Now, as then, passing around a bottle or pipe could also mean helping yourself to a healthy dose of herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores.

Don't snort. HSV-1 rates are skyrocketing among college-age people. Years of decline in children and adolescents have made young adults more susceptible. In fact, about 50 percent of all teenagers and young adults in the USA have HSV-1 antibodies in their blood. And to really sweeten the deal, cold sores can be transmitted through oral sex.

While not life-threatening, cold sores are unsightly and incurable. So think about it for a second. Think about your lecherous party pal's wandering tongue. Think about it sliding around the mouth of your bottle like a slimy piece of bug-ridden liver.

Got that picture firmly in your mind? Good. Bring it back next time you want to spend money on clean shot glasses and your roommate tries to talk you into a bigger, better bong.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Towel sharing is common in dormitories. There are guys a-plenty who will gladly borrow your clean towel – often without your knowledge – rather than escort their own sweat- and mildew-encrusted ass wrap to the corner Laundromat.

Whether or not it's voluntary, shared towels can spread a poxvirus infection with the delightfully sinister name of molluscum contagiosum. These are small, pink, pearl-shaped papules that appear on the face, arms, legs, genitals and poop shoot. They aren't too serious and usually go away by themselves after a few months. Unlike my mother.

Regardless, they're a relatively stiff price to pay for some bloke's lack of initiative. If you suspect "towel play" (that was a pun), wash the thing in regular laundry detergent and machine-dry. You'll probably want to handle it with tongs or a plastic bag, if your towel is still warm and damp.

Yes, I'm aware of how anal that sounds. But among young adults, molluscum contagiosum is also frequently transmitted through sexual contact. Unless you want to leave that hot co-ed down the hall with a gossip-inspiring parting gift, always know where your towel is.

Genital Warts

Between 20 and 30 percent of all sexually active adults in America carry the virus that causes genital warts. This officially classifies the infection rate as an epidemic of concern but not alarm. Called human papilloma virus (HPV), genital warts are most serious among sexually active teenage girls, because they increase the risk of precancerous lesions in the cervix.

So, why should that be your concern? Because, tough guy, most men never display visible signs of the virus (small, flesh-colored growths, similar to cauliflower nodules), and so they can unknowingly become infected by their casual or regular partners and then pass it along to other women.

"I prefer to ride bareback," you may think. "What are my chances?" In some US cities, half of all sexually active teenagers are infected with the sexually transmitted wart virus. Depending on where you live, that means you have a 50-50 shot of getting and spreading your hose warts. Are those good enough odds for you? Do everyone a favor: wear condoms.

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