Healthy and Safe Intimacy for College Students – The Ultimate Guide

Starting college is the beginning of a new chapter in life.

For many students, it’ll be the first time they live away from home. Navigating love, sex, and intimacy will be new for some students, and whilst it’s a time of discovery and fun, there are also going to be ups and downs. 

Sex and intimacy is a beautiful part of life, but it comes with risks. Unwanted pregnancy, sexual assault, and sexually transmitted infections and diseases are just some of the issues students need to be aware of. 

The good news is that being up to date on the latest sexual health recommendations and practices for safe sex can help you avoid and deal with tough situations.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • Different types of sexual relationships
  • Staying protected at college
  • Sexual assault / date rape
  • Sexually transmitted infections and diseases
  • Unplanned pregnancy and contraception

Different types of sexual relationships at college

There’s often a stigma that college is all about “hooking up” and having one-night stands. In truth, they’re not as common as you might think. A study by HerCampus found that 42% of college students had never had a one-night stand, whilst 67.4% of students said it wasn’t common amongst their friendship groups. 

With that being said, there are different types of “hooking up” and relationships. These are the most common terms that you’ll come across:

  • Friends with benefits (FWB) – friends who hook up casually for sex
  • Booty call – only meeting up for sex
  • Sex/f*ck buddy – similar to FWB, but more sex and less friendship
  • One night stand – a one-off sexual encounter with someone
  • Situationship – somewhere between FWB and a relationship 

It’s also important to remember that these terms might be used loosely. Relationships change and evolve all the time, but if you’re unsure of where you stand with a sexual partner, communicate with them and establish what type of relationship you’re in.

Caitlin V. Neal, Resident Sexologist for sexual hygiene and body care company, Royal, has offered her expert advice on sex and intimacy for college students. On having sex for the first time, she says:

College students sometimes feel pressure to have sex for the first time, erroneously believing that everyone else has “done it.” The most important thing for them to keep in mind is that sex is not an event but a journey, and that while practice is valuable and college is a great place to get it, quality ultimately matters more than quantity.

Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Entering Sexual Relationships

Before entering into a sexual relationship, it’s a good idea to take some time to prepare yourself and make sure you know what your limits are. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but by establishing what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not willing to do, you can enjoy sex and intimacy without having regrets later on. 

Am I ready for sex?

Before entering into a sexual relationship, think about whether you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically ready for sex, or if you’re doing it as a result of peer pressure. It’s okay if you don’t feel ready, but it’s important to convey that to your partner and wait until you feel comfortable.

What am I comfortable doing?

Knowing your sexual limits can save you from being in an uncomfortable situation. Your sexual limits might be different from your partner, so it’s a good idea to discuss this issue with them and find a common ground where you both feel comfortable, physically and emotionally.

Do I have the right protection?

Everyone has a responsibility for ensuring protection is used during sex. Never assume your partner is using protection without discussing it first. Speak to your local health advisor or doctor to find out which types of protection are right for you. 

Your protection should cover you from both sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs and STDs) and from getting pregnant.

Important Questions for Your Sexual Partner

Even if you find the questions below personal and intrusive, remember that sex is a very intimate act. Therefore, you need to understand your partner’s sexual history (to a degree), whilst also being honest with them about yours.

Have you ever had any STDs/STIs?

Knowing about your partner’s sexual health can help you avoid picking up an unwanted STD or STI. It will also give you an indication of how seriously your partner takes using protection if they don’t seem worried about catching an infection or disease.

Which types of contraception are you comfortable using?

Be clear about the types of contraception you plan on using and find out how your partner feels about it. Remember, it’s a joint responsibility. There may be some contraceptive pills or condoms which don’t suit you or your partner. Luckily, there are many different types of contraception so it’s just a case of finding a type that suits you.

Are you happy to take a test?

If your partner isn’t willing to take a test, you have the right to not engage in sexual activity with them. Your sexual health is your responsibility, and since some STDs and STIs don’t show symptoms, you can never be sure unless you take a test.

What is our situation?

Are you in a monogamous relationship? Friends with benefits? Is your partner having sex with multiple people? All of this information will help you determine how often your partner (and you) should be tested. Those in a monogamous relationship have less risk of catching sexual infections and diseases, but should still take yearly tests as a precaution.

Are you ready for sex?

Never assume that your partner is comfortable and ready to have sex – it’s best to ask and avoid any misunderstandings. You might also want to ask about their sexual history so that you can better understand their relationship with sex.

On the difficulties that students face at college, Caitlin comments:

The biggest challenge college students face when it comes to sexual health and intimacy is a lack of experience and knowledge about their bodies, their boundaries, their preferences. The best and worst part about college is that it’s a training ground for sexual experiences, but it’s not without consequences like unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can stay with you for life.

How to Stay Protected at College

Sex and relationships are a big part of life. When things are going well, they’re a great experience, but when things go wrong, you need to take care of yourself so you can have the best experience at college.

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Not only do you have to look after yourself physically and take precautions against sexual assault, your mental and emotional health is also very important.

Emotionally and Mentally

Starting college can be a rollercoaster of emotions, you’ll make new friends, experience different situations, and will be pushed out of your comfort zone. Sometimes, all of these factors can seem overwhelming, and that’s why college is a common time for mental health issues to arise.

 

Don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to family and friends, even if you feel like your problems might go away on their own, it’s important to have a support network you can turn to.

 

Seek help. Most colleges have counselors on-site, but if not, they should be able to direct you to the right place to receive help.

 

Take everything one step at a time. Some relationships move faster than others, but if you feel like you’re way in over your head, scale things back and take small steps to build better friendships and relationships.

 

Get physical. Even ten minutes of exercise a day can make a difference to your emotional and mental well-being. It will re-energize you and help you process your thoughts and feelings before you become overwhelmed.

According to sex and relationship coach Caitlin:

The best way to look after your mental and emotional health is to have a support network made up of friends and even mental health professionals who can help you maintain perspective on your relationship. If you’re in a partnership where you start drifting away from your loved ones, or the person you’re with starts to isolate you from your support system, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.

Sexually

Sex is more than just a physical act – for many people, it’s a spiritual and emotional act. You need to ensure you’ve protected your boundaries, your wellbeing, and yourself physically from STIs and STDs, and sexual assault. 

 

Here are a few pointers to remember:

  • Always use protection. This will reduce the risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection or disease. Be on top of birth control as well to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
  • Be clear about what you’re comfortable doing. Don’t be afraid to speak to your partner about issues around sex that bother you. Talking to friends will also help you process your thoughts and feelings on the subject.
  • Get tested regularly. Even if you use protection, mistakes happen so it’s a good idea to get tested at least once a year (more depending on how active you are and how many sexual partners you have).
  • Listen to your gut feeling. Whilst one-night stands certainly happen at college, there’s no pressure to engage in sexual activity with someone you’re not comfortable with. 

Another part of protecting yourself at college is ensuring that you remain physically safe. Read on to find more about reducing the risks of sexual assault (and what to do if it does happen):

Reducing the Risks of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can result in physical harm, but it will also mentally and emotionally affect your well-being, even if you don’t fully remember the events that took place. Sexual assault whilst under the influence of date rape drugs usually leaves the victim with little recollection of what happened. 

So what can you do to reduce the risk and stay safe?

Drink responsibly. Don’t accept drinks from strangers unless you can see the drink being made, and never leave your drink unattended. If you begin to feel unwell, stay with a friend and seek medical help. Stay within your limits.

When on first dates, let a friend or family member know where you’re going and when to expect you home. Meeting in a public place is safer than going to the home of a person you don’t know.

When on out with friends, make a plan beforehand and agree on ways to check in with each other throughout the night. Make sure you and your friends go home together.

Always keep your phone charged, and don’t accept lifts from people you don’t know and trust. Plan your way home beforehand and make sure you have money on you if you need to take a taxi.

Be aware of who’s around you at a party, walk on well lit paths home, lock your doors and windows, and know where the nearest emergency phones are in case your battery dies.

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Caitlin weighs in with the importance of having trusted friends around you to reduce the risk of sexual assault:

It’s age-old advice but consider using the buddy system when you go out at night as college students. No matter your gender, male or female or non-binary, discuss with your buddy your plan for the evening. The plan is to get drunk and get home together? Great! The plan is to hook up and get laid? That’s great too. 

Your buddy can help you make sure you’re going home with someone you want to, and that the person you’re taking home is consenting as well. Choose a buddy who you can trust to tell you the brutal truth that you need to hear, and don’t get so intoxicated that you can’t hear it.

Date Rape Statistics

Date rape refers to the act of having sex without the victim’s consent. It can happen between strangers or with people who are known to each other when one party abuses the trust of the other by coercing or drugging them into having sex. 

According to Drink Safe:

An estimated 80% of all rapes that happen are date rapes.

Only 30.7% of all rapes are reported to the police.

80% of rapes perpetrated against women happen when the woman is intoxicated.

1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted at college.

Women age 18-24 suffer the most from rape demographically.

Victims of rape are more likely to suffer from PTSD.

Date Rape Drugs

There are different types of drugs used to intoxicate victims, but the biggest perpetrator used is alcohol. Watching your limit and ensuring no one else has access to your drink is the best way to stay safe when enjoying a night out. 

Most date rape drugs don’t smell or taste of anything, and are colorless so you won’t notice them dissolve in your drink.

Common date rape drugs used are GHB (also known as liquid ecstacy), Rophynol (often called “roofie”) and Ketamine.

Different drugs have different effects – some will make you feel sleepy, others will cause hallucinations or unconsciousness.

Understanding Consent – When No Means No

In this section, we’re going to cover what consent is, what it looks like, and how to avoid being complacent in sexual consent.

What is consent?

Giving consent before/during a sexual activity shows your partner that you’re happy to go ahead with physical intimacy. It can apply to anything from touching, foreplay, oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

How to give consent?

It’s very important to give consent without sending mixed signals. Don’t be placid in these situations, you must take control of the situation and make your intentions easy and clear to understand.

If you’re uncomfortable in the situation, tell your partner exactly how you feel with words like:

  • “Stop”
  • “I don’t want to do that”
  • “Don’t touch me”
  • “If you don’t stop, I’ll leave” 

If you want to give positive consent and show your partner that you agree with what’s happening, you can say:

  • “I’m ready”
  • “This feels great!”
  • “Don’t stop”
  • “I’m enjoying this”

Be upfront about how you feel from the start and don’t ever assume that your partner knows how comfortable (or uncomfortable) you are in the situation.

How to Avoid Being A Perpetrator

Sexual assault is everyone’s responsibility. Potential victims need to ensure they protect themselves, whilst others need to make sure they aren’t being forceful or ignorant of the signs that someone doesn’t consent to sexual activity.

You partner might not verbally tell you they are uncomfortable. Look out for body language like:

  • Not making eye contact
  • Avoiding touch
  • Appearing tense or nervous
  • Looking away from you
  • Distancing themselves
  • Shaking their head
  • Looking upset/worried/scared
  • Finding reasons to stop and change activity

Ignorance isn’t an excuse when it comes to sexual assault:

  • Sharing a bed doesn’t mean sex is on the agenda
  • Silence doesn’t mean “yes”
  • Flirting doesn’t suggest the other person wants to get physical
  • Never assume your partner is happy to proceed with sexual activity
  • Being drunk or under the influence of drugs may hamper someone’s ability to give clear consent. Don’t take advantage of that.

As explained by Caitlin:

Have the consent- talk with yourself first, before engaging with anyone else. Get clear with yourself on what you’re okay with, what’s getting near the line, and what’s an absolute no-go for you this evening. 

Make the commitment to yourself to defend your boundaries and to take excellent care of yourself before you ever leave your dorm. Then when you’re negotiating consent with a potential lover, it will be so much easier because you’re not making up your boundaries on the fly. 

Also, check-in with yourself regularly throughout the night, are you honoring your commitments to yourself? Finally, be on the lookout for a partner’s “no” and much as their “yes.” Be extra sensitive when someone is saying anything less than a “hell yes” with their words, demeanor, or body language. If the person you’re considering hooking up with seems like a “maybe” then take a raincheck. Better to go home alone tonight than be accused of sexual assault tomorrow.

What to Do In the Event of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault, even if it happens with someone you know (including a partner) is a crime. There is no excuse for it, and even if you were both under the influence of alcohol, it’s still imperative that you seek help, even if you’re unsure of the details of what happened.

1

Leave the situation as quickly as possible

Find somewhere safe to assess any physical damage and calm down. Use this time to call a friend or family member and prepare for the next steps. If you’re in fear, you need to call the police immediately.

2

Get medical attention straight away

It’s important to go to the hospital as soon as possible, especially if you’re injured. You should also take the case to the police, they’ll need to collect DNA samples and gather any other necessary evidence, which is all best done within the first 72 hours of the incident. Don’t shower or wash your clothing, and if the assault took place in your home, don’t clean or remove anything.

3

You may be referred to take for a medical examination

The police may send you for a check-up so that medics can check you over and collect important samples that may help with the case. If you’re under 21 years of age, you’ll need a guardian’s signature for the rape kit (which is only accessible if a police report has been filed first).

4

Seek support and know that you’re not alone

Even if you don’t feel comfortable discussing what happened with friends or family, many organizations can help you and support you through your healing. The sexual assault might make you feel ashamed or embarrassed, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t your fault, and life will get better if you take the help that’s out there.

What if a friend has been assaulted?

If a friend confides that they’ve been sexually assaulted, you have a responsibility to help them find the right support. Moreover, you can offer a lot of emotional support just by being there for them. 

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  • Avoid making judgemental statements or showing disbelief when they recount their story
  • Let them know that you’re there to help and encourage them to contact the police or get in touch with a support service 
  • Check-in with them regularly to see how they are and if they need help. The aftermath of sexual assault can be highly turbulent so avoid leaving your friend to suffer in silence 
  • Don’t push for details unless the victim is willing to open up. They may need time to process what happened and pushing them could make them withdraw even more

Sexual Assault Helplines and Support Groups

Most importantly, be up to date on the help available. As well as speaking to your college about their support guidelines, numerous organizations can provide support and assistance to victims of sexual assault:


RAINN

(Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) offers help in the form of online chat and a number to call, available in Spanish and English. They’re open 24/7 and provide support and legal advice:

Call: 800-656-HOPE (4673)


VictimConnect

Provides support to victims of any crime or assault and is open from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm. They have a chat service, or you can call to speak to a specialist (also available for Spanish speakers).

Call: 1-588-4VICTIM ( 1-855-484-2846)


Love is Respect

Help and support line for young people who find themselves in abusive relationships. Sexual assault is still a crime and wrong no matter how long you’ve been involved with a person. Chat, text, or call confidentially open 24/7.

Call: 1-866-331-9474

Call: 1-866-331-9474


National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline

Help for deaf Americans seeking support for sexual assault or abuse of any kind. Videophone to speak to a trained member who can refer you to the right services and refer local services.

Call: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)


Staying Smart About Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases

By keeping on top of your sexual practices, you can enjoy sex without the worry of catching an uncomfortable, and in some cases life-changing disease or infection. The age group most likely to catch a sexually transmitted disease or infection is 15-24. Here are some of the most common STIs and STDs:

Name

Symptoms

How to treat it

Genital Herpes

The only visible symptoms are itching, pain, small red bumps, or scabbing around the genital area.

Whilst there’s no cure, antiviral medicines can alleviate the symptoms and lessen outbreaks.

Genital Warts / Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Look out for flesh-colored or grey warts around the genitals and anus area. You may experience discomfort during sex and in some cases bleeding.

Topical treatments can reduce irritation, and in some cases, warts may be frozen or lasered off (strictly done by a doctor).

Chlamydia

Around 70% of people don’t experience symptoms, but those who do might feel pain when urinating, during sex, and in the tummy or pelvis. Discharge is also a symptom, in both men and women.

Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics but if left untreated it can result in damage to the reproductive system in women. In some cases, it can affect the ability to have children.

Syphilis

Symptoms include sores around the mouth, genitals, and anus. This may develop into a fever, rashes, and swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated, it can affect many organs including the heart and brain.

If caught early, syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. If left too long, some damage may be irreparable by medicine.

HIV/AIDS

If you’ve caught HIV, you might experience flu-like symptoms around two weeks after intercourse. In some cases, HIV can take years to develop into AIDS.

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. The use of HIV medicine (antiretroviral therapy) can slow down the progression and give you a healthy life whilst ensuring you don’t pass on the infection to others.

Gonorrhea

Symptoms include discharge, the urge to urinate often, and sore throat. Men might experience swelling and pain in the testicles and penis. Women usually feel pain during sex and urination.

Antibiotics are used to treat Gonorrhea, but if left untreated it can cause PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), arthritis, heart valve damage, and infertility in both men and women.

Hepatitis B

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dark urine, fever, and fatigue. Symptoms usually appear within 5 weeks to 8 months of contracting the infection.

Antiviral medicines can be used to slow the infection and reduce damage to the liver, but there’s no cure for the infection.

How to prevent catching an STI or STD

It’s simple – wear protection at all times when having sexual intercourse. If you don’t have any protection on you, don’t take part in sexual activity. Whilst some infections can be cured with no lasting damage, you still run the risk of catching an incurable disease that could affect your health and lifestyle. 

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Reduce your chances by:

  • Always wearing protection (condoms)
  • Getting tested regularly so treatment can take effect before infections spread

Doing this will protect your health and the well-being of your current and future sexual partners. Your college will be able to advise you on where to locate your nearest sexual health clinic, and the initial tests involve answering questions about your sexual history, as well as a medical check of your genitals. You may also need to have a blood test depending on which type of test you’re having. 

Caitlin explains that to have healthy sexual experiences, you must: 

Do your research and check with multiple sources. Many STIs can be transmitted even with the use of a condom, and wherever drugs or alcohol are involved a backup method of contraception (like the pill) should be used. It’s way too easy to drunkenly forego the use of a condom and regret it the next morning. Practice having consent conversations early and regularly to avoid doing anything you’re both not a “hell yes” to.

STD and STI Resources

Get Tested

To find your nearest testing center, use this website. They also have a lot of information on the different types of STDs and STIs out there.

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention

This breakdown will let you know which types of STDs and STIs you should get tested for. There’s also the option to find your nearest testing center, as well as resources on what to do if you test positive for an infection or disease. 

American Sexual Health Association

For the A-Z on sexual health, this website will provide information on the risks of catching an STI or STD, as well as putting you in touch with different healthcare providers.

A Positive Life

A support organization for those living with HIV/AIDS. Speak to healthcare providers, learn more about the support offered, and get educated on living a healthy life with AIDS.

Preventing Pregnancy at College

With one in 10 students dropping out of college due to unplanned pregnancy, don’t be complacent in knowing how to prevent becoming pregnant. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of contraception out there:

Condoms

Condoms are a “barrier” method of contraception. The barrier stops sperm from traveling through the uterus, and they’re 98% effective at stopping pregnancy. They can be bought over-the-counter in pharmacies or for free at health clinics.

Pros: 

  • Easy to buy/ free from health care centers 
  • Protects against most STIs and STDs
  • Doesn’t contain any hormones 
  • Easy to apply 

Cons:

  • They aren’t a long-term solution (only suitable for one-time use)

 

Diaphragm

This is a soft dome-shaped barrier made from plastic. It’s inserted into the cervix where it blocks sperm from entering the uterus, and spermicides are used to kill any sperm that come close to the barrier. A doctor will need to prescribe you a diaphragm and the cost will vary depending on your healthcare plan. Diaphragms used alongside spermicide are believed to be between 92-96% effective. 

Pros: 

  • Usually inexpensive  
  • Reusable 
  • Doesn’t affect sexual intercourse 

Cons: 

  • You’ll need a prescription 
  • Some people find it difficult to insert 
  • Doesn’t protect against STIs or STDs
  • Must be used for every sexual interaction

 

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

An IUD is a small T-shaped device made of copper or plastic which is fitted in the uterus. As well as being reversible, an IUD can stay in the uterus for three to 10 years. It must be inserted by a trained healthcare provider. Copper IUDs are considered 99% effective, whilst hormones containing IUDs come in at 99.8% effective. 

Pros:

  • Long-term contraception depending on the type you choose 
  • One of the most effective contraceptives at a 99% protection rate
  • Completely reversible – you become fertile again once the device is removed 

Cons:

  • May cause irregular bleeding or spotting 
  • Doesn’t protect against STIs or STDs
  • Must be inserted and removed by a professional healthcare provider

 

Emergency Contraction Pill (The Morning After Pill)

This contraction is to be used after you’ve had unprotected sex, or if the condom broke, or if it’s a case of sexual assault. The sooner you take it, the more effective it will be, but it can be taken up to five days after having unprotected sex. It prevents roughly 85% of pregnancies and can be taken at your local health center or pharmacy

Pros:

  • No prescription needed 
  • Most effective when used in the first 24 hrs of having sex 

Cons: 

  • Only to be used in emergencies and not as a regular method of contraception 
  • Doesn’t protect against STIs or STDs
  • Contains high levels of hormones 
  • May affect periods and can cause headaches, nausea, and other side effects

 

The Contraceptive Implant

This consists of inserting a small rod under the skin of a woman’s upper arm. This device will release the hormone progesterone which stops the egg from being released and makes it tough for sperm to get through. The implant will last three years after which you can have it replaced. It’s highly effective, offering 99% protection against pregnancy. 

Pros:

  • Doesn’t interfere with sex 
  • Reversible – fertility will return as soon as it’s removed 
  • Lasts for three years 

Cons:

  • Doesn’t protect against STIs and STDs
  • Might cause irregular bleeding 
  • Must be inserted and removed by a professional healthcare provider

 

The Contraceptive Patch

The Contraceptive Patch is applied to a woman’s arm, and releases hormones which prevent her from falling pregnant for up to a week with each use. It’s waterproof, so it doesn’t come off when showering or swimming. The patch is considered to be 99% effective at stopping pregnancy. 

Pros:

  • Easy to apply 
  • Lasts for one week 
  • Still effective even if you vomit (unlike the pill)

Cons:

  • Can cause side effects like headache, or in extreme cases raised blood pressure or blood clots 
  • Doesn’t protect against STIs and STDs

 

The Contraceptive Ring

True to its name, a Contraceptive Ring is a round, flexible piece of plastic that is inserted into the vagina and releases hormones. The ring stays in for three weeks before being removed for your period. When used correctly and not with certain other medications, it’s 99% effective. 

Pros:

  • Completely reversible – fertility returns once the ring is removed 
  • Easy to insert and remove at home yourself 
  • A highly effective form of contraception 

Cons:

  • Doesn’t protect against STIs or STDs
  • Not suitable for women intolerant to estrogen-containing forms of contraception

 

The Contraceptive Pill

There are different types of pills – the combined pill contains both estrogen and progestin, whilst the mini pill only contains progestin. Taken orally, the pills must be taken around the same time every day. Taking the pill is only available by prescription so you’ll have to discuss your options with a doctor or healthcare provider. 

Pros:

  • 99% effective but only if used properly 
  • Doesn’t interfere with sex 
  • Can help with heavy periods and acne 

Cons:

  • Can cause side effects 
  • Doesn’t protect against STDs and STIs
  • Must remember to take it consistently otherwise it loses effectiveness

 

The Contraceptive Injection

This injection consists of a synthetic version of progestogen, usually given in the upper arm or buttock. This hormone prevents pregnancy in women. Depending on the type you go for, it may last anywhere for two-three months. It’s considered 99% effective. 

Pros:

  • Lasts for a few months so no need to think about daily 
  • An effective method of contraception 
  • Doesn’t disturb sex 

Cons:

  • Can only be obtained from a health clinic or doctor 
  • Doesn’t protect against STIs or STDs 
  • Can disrupt periods

 

Contraception Myths Debunked

Myth: The “pull out” method will stop you from getting pregnant.

Fact: “Pulling out” before ejaculation is believed to only be 78% effective - that means roughly 1 in 5 women risk becoming pregnant. Additionally, pre-ejaculation (which contains sperm) can occur anytime during sex, so it’s not the most reliable form of contraception.

Myth: You won’t get pregnant if you have unprotected sex during your period.

Fact: It’s extremely unlikely,  but as each menstrual cycle differs there’s always a small possibility that you can fall pregnant. It’s also worth noting that sperm can live for up to five days in the body, so depending on when you have unprotected sex and when you start ovulating, there could be a crossover period.

Myth: Birth control will make you put on weight.

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Fact: Studies have shown that very little weight is gained when taking the contraceptive pill, at most, research showed an average of 4.4lb weight gain when taking the pill for a year.

Myth: Birth control can cause strokes or blood clots.

Fact: Indeed, the chances of these conditions increase slightly in certain individuals (being over 35 years old, a smoker, or with a history of cardiovascular disease), however, the majority of people face little risk of stroke or blood clots from taking the pill. Always speak to your doctor about your concerns and they’ll help you find a suitable type of contraception.

What to Do In the Event of An Unplanned Pregnancy

No contraceptive is 100% effective, and accidents do happen. The condom broke, you forgot to take your pill or having unprotected sex can all lead to pregnancy. If you have had unprotected sex, the sooner you go to your nearest health center, the more effective taking emergency contraception will be. 

Some women start experiencing symptoms of pregnancy between 2 to 3 weeks after having sex, whilst for others, it can take a few months. 

 

Signs of pregnancy include:

  • Missed period 
  • Nausea (with or without vomiting)
  • Fatigue 
  • Tenderness in breasts

If you suspect you’re pregnant, the quickest way to find out is to take a pregnancy test, which you can find at your local health center, pharmacy, or doctor’s practice. If the result is positive, you’ll need to immediately make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options and check your health.

So what options are there if you find yourself with an unplanned pregnancy?

1

Adoption

If you don't feel ready to be a parent, but you don't want to terminate the pregnancy, adoption is worth considering. There are different types of adoption which you can discuss at your health center, and plenty of loving families ready to adopt.

2

Becoming A Parent

If you want to keep the child, you'll need to make sure you have plenty of support and help in place. Think about the impact it would have on your studies and financial situation, and speak to your college about any support they can offer for young parents.

3

Abortion

Deciding to terminate the pregnancy might be the best option, but only you can make that choice. Be sure to discuss it with your doctor so you can receive the relevant support and care. How late you can end the pregnancy depends on where you live.

Unplanned pregnancy advice for guys

Guys - finding out you could be a father is undoubtedly going to come as a shock. Whether it’s with a steady girlfriend or a one-time hook-up, it’s important to approach the situation with understanding, calmness, and maturity.

  • Your initial reaction may come from a place of panic, or fear, especially if you don’t feel ready to be a father. It’s a good idea to take some time to yourself, think it over, look at your options and then check back in with your partner.
  • Although you can discuss your wishes with her, it’s important to remember that she will have the ultimate say over keeping the child or not, as she is the one carrying the baby. By supporting each other, you can decide what’s best together.
  • Seek support, whichever decision you come to. Confide in friends and family, speak to your health advisors at college, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
  • Encourage your partner to do the same - choosing to abort a child, go through adoption or become parents are all life-changing decisions and you don’t have to go through the process alone.

Unplanned pregnancy support and guidance

Planned Parenthood

Get in touch to find out about birth control and what to do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. Whether you need to find the nearest abortion clinic or discuss contraception, they cover all areas of pregnancy.

Call: 1-800-230-PLAN (7526)


Birthright International

This space is dedicated to helping women take their next steps during an unplanned pregnancy. It’s a non-judgmental organization that also has resources for partners/family/friends who want to support the pregnancy.

Call: 1-800-550-4900


Standing With You

Call or chat with an expert advisor on pregnancy, or get up to date on pregnancy resources and your rights during pregnancy. Ideal for expecting women who are working or studying.

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Call: 540-834-4600


American Pregnancy Association

To determine the next steps for an unplanned pregnancy, get in touch with the American Pregnancy Association via the chat on their website or by calling to speak to an agent.

Call:1-800-672-2296

First Time Experiences

College is all about first-time experiences. You might have already had sexual experiences or relationships, but moving away from home and meeting new people can bring about situations that you’ve never encountered before. Here are a possible few, with the dos and don'ts for each:

First time...

Do

Don't

Having sex

  • Take it slow
  • Wear protection
  • Communicate with your partner about your feelings
  • Engage in foreplay as it’ll help ease into sex more comfortably
  • Assume that you can’t get pregnant or catch an STI on your first time having sex
  • Don’t force yourself to do anything that feels unnatural
  • Be afraid to stop if you change your mind

On a date

  • Ask questions and be present and engaged
  • Treat your date respectfully
  • Let a friend know where you’re going for your date
  • Be upfront with your date and don’t send mixed signals
  • Keep things light and have fun
  • Don’t allow your date to pressure you into anything
  • Have a plan B if things go wrong
  • Spend the entire evening on your phone
  • Put unnecessary pressure on yourself or your date

In a relationship

  • Have realistic expectations
  • Build trust and love
  • Invest time in your partner
  • Be honest about what you feel comfortable with
  • Spend time together and apart, maintaining your individuality
  • Don’t play games
  • Avoid rushing into anything sexual until both of you feel ready
  • Don’t neglect your studies or social life
  • Don’t ignore red flags

Buying contraception

  • Speak to a healthcare professional first
  • Discuss it with your partner
  • Try different types - some will suit you better than others
  • Get tested regularly and adjust contraception when needed
  • Don’t become lazy with contraception, it should be taken as prescribed
  • Don’t limit yourself to one type. Use condoms in addition to another form of contraception so you’re protected against STIs, STDs. and pregnancy

Questioning your sexuality

  • Confide in someone you trust. You don’t have to go through the process alone
  • Go easy on yourself. Don’t worry about other people’s opinion, your sexuality is personal to you
  • Get in touch with support organizations that can help you on your journey
  • Feel ashamed or like you’ve got to hide your sexuality
  • Don’t be in a rush to pick a label, give yourself time to explore what feels natural to you
  • Avoid suppressing your feeling
  • Don’t be in a rush to “try new experiences”, take your time, and do what feels right

Feeling lonely

  • Reach out! Talk to friends, family, join a club or learn a new skill where you can meet other people
  • Get involved with your community, you’ll feel valued and connected
  • Use periods of loneliness to practice self-care and love
  • Get proactive, be the one to make plans instead of waiting for others
  • Don’t overload yourself with stimulation. Being lonely is good sometimes so learn to be quiet and still
  • Don’t take it personally - people become busy with studies and work but that doesn't mean they don’t care about you anymore

Falling in love

  • Enjoy yourself, falling in love is a beautiful experience
  • Show love and affection to your partner
  • Continue to respect your partner’s space and time
  • Keep your feet on the ground and maintain a healthy balance in your life
  • Spend quality time with your partner and alone
  • Don’t smother your partner. Your feelings might be intense, but you don’t want to make them feel pressured
  • Avoid assuming that your partner has the same love languages as you
  • Don’t forget about your individuality. It’s important to continue having a life of your own
  • Don’t rush your partner if they feel differently from you

Enjoying Sex and Relationships at College

College is a time of exploration, having fun, meeting new people, and of course, studying towards your future. Whilst it might seem that there are a lot of dangers, if you take the right precautions there’s no reason you can’t enjoy intimate relationships and sex. 

By getting into the habit of practicing safe sex and healthy relationships, you’ll have more time to focus and enjoy college. It will also help you with future relationships and sexual encounters once you graduate and begin a fully independent life. 

A final piece of advice from sexologist and relationship coach, Caitlin:

Because of the abundance and social acceptability of alcohol on college campuses, people are more likely to take risks and liberties than they might if sober. This means that college students need to be extra thoughtful about consent, and extra self-aware about their boundaries and limitations.

Key Points to Takeaway

  • Never be afraid to ask for help. There are many organizations out there to support you, no matter what situation you face.
  • Always practice safe sex.
  • Being prepared, aware, and organized can reduce the risk of sexual assault.
  • Look out for yourself and those around you. Having a good support network will help you through the ups and downs of college life.

 

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