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How to Look After Your Sexual Health at University

How to Look After Your Sexual Health at University main image

It’s not something most people like to talk about (everyone remembers those cringe lessons at school), but sex and sexual health can be a big part of the university experience. Neglect to look after yourself properly, either because you’re too embarrassed or you never learned how to, and you could face serious repercussions.

The main thing to realize is talking about sex, STIs, contraception etc. doesn’t need to be daunting or humiliating. Samantha Disney, Service Manager at sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK, says: “Treat going to an STI clinic in the same way you would going to your doctors or dentist - looking after your sexual health is a normal part of life”.

Where to go

So, first of all, where can you go to access sexual health services? This will depend on your university and student city’s facilities, but most are likely to have dedicated sexual health clinics and services. To find them, Samantha says: “Speak to your welfare officer, check out your uni’s webpage or use the ‘Services Near You’ search tool on the NHS Choices website if you’re in the UK”.

Best of all, sexual health services are completely free on the NHS, and available to everyone.

Samantha: “Your university may offer services in-house or team up with other organizations to offer screening for things like gonorrhoea and chlamydia as well as distributing condoms for free.”

As you might know, condoms are the only form of contraception that also protects you from STIs, so it’s especially important to get tested if you’re using a different form of contraception. There are some misconceptions surrounding STIs though, as Samantha points out: “Many people think that STI’s can only be passed on through penetrative intercourse, or that contraception such as the pill protects you from more than just pregnancy, neither of which is the case. Irrespective of your sexuality and sexual practices, go get yourself checked”.

What to expect

Going to an STI clinic can seem daunting if you’ve never been before, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you think. There’s no judgment, and you’ll probably come out thinking it was a lot quicker and easier than you thought it would be. As Samantha says: “The service is completely confidential and the staff are very friendly. You will normally be greeted at reception and if it’s your first time attending you’ll be asked to fill in some details. When you go through to the consultation room, you will generally be asked some more in-depth questions about your sexual history.”

After this, the doctor or nurse will advise on what tests they think you need. The tests can be in the form of a urine test, blood test (to test for HIV and syphilis) or a self-taken swab. With some tests, you can receive the results on the same day, but others may take a week or two. 

How often should you go? “Unfortunately, the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections are detected within 15-24-year olds. So, it’s important to have a check-up at least once a year or with every change of sexual partner”.

If you’re a woman aged 25 or over, it’s also important to have a cervical screening test once every three years.

Deciding what’s right for you

There are about 15 different forms of contraception available, both hormonal and non-hormonal, and with so many options, how do you decide which type of contraception is best for you? “Speak to a doctor or nurse within your surgery or the local sexual health clinic about the options that best suit you,” Samantha advises. You’ll be asked about your medical history, as there may be some forms of contraception you should avoid. You can also research your options on websites such as the Family Planning Association website, which has detailed information on the types of contraception available, how to use them, where to get them and their advantages and disadvantages. It also has both a short and long form of a contraception questionnaire.

You might also like to talk to your friends, who may already be using a type of contraception themselves. While hearing their personal experiences can be helpful, their advice can’t replace a professional’s and you should always choose the best form of contraception for you, regardless of what your friends are using. During your research, you might come across some horror stories on the internet about unpleasant side effects from certain forms of contraception. These can be discomforting, but remember these extreme side effects are rare, and very unlikely to happen to you as well. If you’re unsure, always ask a doctor or other medical professional.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, accidents happen and you might need to use emergency contraception. Depending upon where you’re living, there’s no need to panic. In the UK, emergency contraception is easy to access. Samantha: “Emergency contraception is available from your GP Surgery, local sexual health clinic, pharmacy, or accident and emergency departments. It’s often best to phone first and check the service is available”.

If you’re in the UK, you can call Terrence Higgins Trust for free, confidential advice on their helpline: 0808 802 1221. (Open 8am-10pm Monday to Friday. Outside these hours, you can call NHS 111.)

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
The Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina edits and publishes articles which guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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