Having sex is serious business, but lots of people don't think clearly about it in the heat of the moment. It can affect your health - sometimes permanently - and even land you with a child you're not prepared for, so it's important to consider how to approach it during your time at university.
So, what’s different about sex at university/college?
Potentially, a lot. For starters, you might have not had sex yet – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Plenty of people haven’t when they get to university. Or you might not want to have sex yet – nothing wrong with wanting to wait, either.
However, at university you’re likely to meet lots of people you fancy and might want to date or have sex with. Most students tend to live away from their parents, so they won’t know if you bring someone home. University is usually the first chance people get to live independently, so it’s natural to want to do things you might not have been able to before. And drinking alcohol - which tends to be a popular past-time at university! – might also affect how you make your decisions about what you do and with whom.
Is it safe to sleep around?
Whether you are with a long-term partner or you’re with someone different every night, it’s important to remain safe by using some form of contraception. Sleeping with multiple partners can carry other risks, too – the risk that you’ll end up feeling emotionally confused or do things you’ll later regret. No one is judging you on your sexual choices, but ensure you’re fully informed of the risks and how to keep healthy.
What are the risks?
There is the risk that you or your partner could get pregnant – in this case, you’d need to decide whether you want to parent a child together or not. For most people, the risk of becoming a parent is a no-brainer, but sexually transmitted infections are a big concern too.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise among sexually active young people. HIV/AIDS is the most well-known and scariest STI, but there are also lots of other nasty things you could get.
Chlamydia will often cause no symptoms in both men and women, but left untreated for a long period of time, it can cause infertility. It can be easily treated once diagnosed, though.
Gonorrhoea (also known as ‘the clap’) can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and/or arthritis. Symptoms in men are more apparent, and it is estimated that nearly half of women who have the disease do not experience symptoms.
Syphilis is an STI that starts as an infected sore, and can be treated easily with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, it can lead to a stroke, paralysis, blindness or even death.
Pubic lice (or crabs) is probably one of the least harmful, but definitely unpleasant – these tiny (2mm long) insects can be spread through close body contact and even using a condom will not prevent them spreading. It is, however, treatable.
You could also contract herpes, which is a viral disease that will stay with you and break out recurrently for the rest of your life – it causes painful blisters on your genitals and can be spread to your sexual partners. No pressure, then!
That’s not even all - there are more STIs you can contract. All in all, no one would really want to expose themselves to the risk of contracting any STI – which is why you need to be informed about how to protect yourself.
How do I keep safe?
Predominantly, the only way you’re going to really ensure that you are protected from most of the risks of having sex is to use a condom. This will prevent the sperm from meeting the egg to cause pregnancy, but it will also stop any exchange of bodily fluid at all, which will lower the risk of contracting an STI.
You can get condoms for free from family planning centres, student unions, student-friendly bars and events, or Brook Advisory Centres. Or you can buy them from chemists, supermarkets, or from vending machines in pub, bar and nightclub toilets.
Make sure the box of condoms has the CE mark - this means that they've been tested to European safety standards. Condoms that don't have the CE mark won't meet these standards, so don't put yourself at risk by using them.
We don’t want to use a condom
If your partner is pressuring you into not using a condom, perhaps you should consider finding a new partner – as this one is putting both your health and theirs at risk. However, if you’re in a long-term relationship, then perhaps other methods of contraception will be preferable. There are a variety of different forms of contraception available: The combined pill; the injection; the implant; the patch, and more. It might be worth seeing a sexual health advisor or your doctor for advice on what contraceptive method is right for you – if you’re forgetful, you don’t want the extra burden of having to remember to take tablets, for instance.
If you’re looking at alternatives to condoms, then bear in mind that other forms of contraception will not protect you from STIs as effectively - and some STIs can be spread even if you do use a condom.
What happens if we have an accident or I think I may have an STI?
It’s important to act quickly if a condom splits or if you’ve had unprotected sex. Emergency contraception (the morning-after pill) can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex and should prevent a pregnancy. It is not to be considered as contraception for regular use, and if you are taking it for unprotected sex, you should still get tested for STIs as the pill cannot help prevent the spread of infection.