Keeping Up With Your Sexual Health In College
Summer has officially ended, school has started again, and the class of 2023 has entered college. College is just another word for “freedom” for many young people, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a place and a time for you to transition into a new phase of your life: adulthood. For many, college is the first time you’re entirely responsible for feeding yourself, doing all your own laundry, getting to class on time, and balancing your responsibilities with your friendships.
But if you’re a freshman (or even an upper-classperson!), don’t let taking care of your sexual health slip off your to-do list. Your sexual health you physically, mentally, and socially, so it’s very important to keep it in mind regardless of your relationship status or sexual activity.
Here are four ways to make sure you’re keeping up with your sexual health while in college:
Consider All Your Birth Control Options.
Everyone’s birth control journey is different. If you’re not on birth control right now, or if you are but aren’t sure it’s right for you, visit a provider to talk to them about all of the methods available to you. It’s important that your method works for you right now. Something that worked for you in the past may not work anymore now that you’re in college. Birth control gives the ability to plan for the future you want. You deserve the opportunity to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child.
When thinking through which methods will work for you, consider what you want to get from your birth control and what matters most to you. Here are a few questions to think about before you talk to a provider:
- Is how effective the method is at preventing pregnancy your highest priority?
- How do you feel about using a method that contains hormones?
- Is having a low-cost method the most important thing right now?
- Do you want to continue to get your period every month or are you okay with having lighter or no periods while on a method?
- Are you okay with having to remember to take a pill every day?
- Are STIs a concern for you?
If you prefer to take a pill every day, get the Bedsider birth control reminder app; or if you’d rather have a longer-acting method try the implant or IUD. Whatever you end up using, remember that it’s okay to go back to your provider if you have concerns or questions or if it’s just not working out. There are a number of different methods out there and there really is something for everybody.
Get Tested for and Treat STIs.
Of course, not all methods of birth control prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Only condoms (either internal or external) can prevent pregnancy and also STIs. Dental dams can also help prevent STIs if you’re having oral sex.
If you have sex without one of these barrier methods, or if your barrier method fails, see a health care provider to get tested. If you have an STI, make sure you get the treatment you need.
Men and women should both make sure they’ve gotten their HPV vaccines. The most common STI, HPV can often be symptomless or even go away on its own. But, some forms can lead to cancer, which is why the CDC recommends getting the entire series of vaccines.
Proactively Take Care of Your Sexual Journey.
Beyond birth control and STIs there are other things you can do to make sure you live your healthiest life.
Take the time to think about what you do and don’t feel comfortable doing with another person. Defining your boundaries and understanding what you like and don’t like before entering a sexual situation not only gives you a better understanding of yourself but will prevent you from depending on a partner to direct your experiences and journey. And if you decide you’re not yet ready to have sex or engage in sexual activity, that’s totally normal!
Consent is also a key part of ensuring positive sexual experiences and good sexual health. Though it’s often taught as “no means no,” that’s only a part of it. Enthusiastic consent is a way to communicate your desires, learn about your partner’s desires, and be proactive about consent.
Remember, sexual health encompasses more than just your body; it involves your brain too. So, if you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or scared by the thought of sex or by something that’s happening in your sex life, talk to a trusted mentor, check out your university’s mental health options, or talk to your provider about how you’re feeling.
Understand Your Resources.
Along with all the other changes it can bring, if going to college involves a move for you, it may change where you can receive care and how you’ll pay for it. Make sure you understand what kind of insurance you have (Are you getting it through your university? Are you still covered under a parent or guardian’s plan?) and what coverage it provides you (How much is your copay? What services are you entitled to for free? Are you limited to certain clinics or hospital networks?).
Then figure out what your on-campus options are; start by checking out your campus health center’s website. If your health center doesn’t offer a wide variety of services, your future self will thank you for finding another provider nearby. Just check with them first about whether they take your insurance. If your school does provide the services you think you’ll need, you may find it helpful to save the contact info for the campus health center and a campus mental health counselor so you can contact them easily if you need them.
Starting off freshman year, it's easy to get lost in making new friends, joining a variety of clubs, and figuring out exactly where your Bio lab is held each week. But while you're having all that fun, don't forget your health. By thinking ahead and looking out for your future self you can ensure you have the best college experience possible.