Here are some ways to look after your sexual health at university.
Let’s not beat around the bush: sexual health can be a touchy subject. Truth is, anyone who is sexually active can catch an STI; they’re very much a reality – but fortunately, they can be easily avoided. By following these ten tips, you can explore your sexuality while staying safe every time 💪
Get tested regularly
In 2019, there were 468,342 new STI diagnoses made at sexual health clinics in England. Unfortunately, your phone isn’t going to ping you an alert when you’ve been with someone who has an STI, so it’s best to get regular check-ups just to be on the safe side. Remember, students can get a free STI test at their local NHS sexual health clinic, so there’s really no excuse not to 🤷♀️
If they’re weird about using protection, it’s a big no
Make sure you're on the same page about protection with your partners. In the heat of the moment, your guard might fall down, or you may be worried about missing a chance with your crush - but it's always worth bringing up the topic of protection.
Let’s be clear: if they have any objection to contraception, and they’re willing to risk your sexual health and wellbeing for their pleasure, then that might ring some alarm bells. So, it's a good idea to bare this in mind!
Don’t ignore symptoms
Symptoms of STIs can sometimes be embarrassing, and not the type of affliction you’re likely to bring up with your housemates. They can be super painful, uncomfortable and can even affect your everyday life. From lumps, bumps, sores and blisters to rashes, unusual discharge or a burning sensation, symptoms of STIs can vary depending on the disease (and they should be addressed as soon as possible).
If it’s an STI, it won’t just go away in a couple of weeks by itself, and it could even get worse. Make an appointment as soon as you can – it might be a false alarm, but it’s better to know in any case! If you do suspect you have an STI or you've been diagnosed with one, refrain from sex until your treatment has run its course and your doctor gives you the all clear. 🎉
Be wary of alcohol
Who doesn’t love a good party? Wild nights out and mad nights in are part of the student experience, and for many of us, that means drinking more than our fair share. Here’s the thing: alcohol can often lead to some, let’s say, questionable decision-making. One-night stands can be fun, but you should always keep sexual health in your mind when the time comes. Always carry protection just in case.
If you’re all gung-ho on drinking, make sure every second drink is a glass of water. You’ll be tipsy enough to have a great time but have the clarity to use protection if you do have sex. You’ll also wake up without the headache that comes with dehydration – it’s a win-win!
Bring your own condoms
Condoms are extremely effective at protecting against STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and types to suit everyone, so get in the habit of always carrying some on you (you never know 🤷♀️).
Rule number one of condoms? Never assume someone else has one. On that note, consider looking for sexual partners who are happy to share the responsibility of protection and are comfortable discussing sexual health openly with you.
Remember: condoms do expire
That condom in your wallet sadly won’t last a lifetime. Most types have a shelf life of 3-5 years, but that’s assuming they haven’t been damaged during this time. Before a night out, grab a couple of new ones for free at your student union or student sexual health services on campus - just to be on the safe side.
Don’t take “I got tested really recently” for an answer
They got tested recently? Be cautious. Unless they've brought a print-out from the clinic that says they're all clear, anyone can say they've tested negative. Make sure to go with your gut on this one.
Talk to your partners
Practising safe sex on an active basis is more than okay – your sexuality should be explored and enjoyed as long as you’re being careful! It’s worth keeping in mind that each new partner has a sexual history, so it's a good idea to be open with people you get involved with. If you aren’t in a monogamous relationship or abstaining altogether, be mindful about their history.
Be mindful of the risks
University is all about meeting new people and trying new things (yes, including sex). That’s why sexual health at uni is so important – so you can have an awareness of the risks and take precautions. On that note, some sexual practices are higher risk than others. Take a look at the NHS website to find out more.
If you’ve been diagnosed...
We know it’s hard to tell the person you've been in contact with – especially when you’re at university and you’re worried about what your mates might think. But trust us, honesty is the best policy in this situation. If it were you, you’d want to know. And, since STIs are a very personal issue, it’s really unlikely the people you’ve slept with will want to tell the world about it!
In all seriousness, certain STDs like chlamydia can cause permanent damage and even infertility, while many others will weaken the immune system if left untreated for too long. So, if you’ve been diagnosed – don’t put it off. Call your recent partners and keep everyone safe 🎉