How to Look After Your Sexual Health at University

Talking about STIs and contraception doesn’t need to be daunting. DESIblitz presents how you can keep your sexual health in check.

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With an early diagnosis, most infections can be cured.

Sex and sexual health can be a big part of the university experience.

Talking about sex in the South Asian community remains taboo but neglecting your sexual health because you never learned how to could result in serious repercussions.

Whilst talking about sexual health can be awkward, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are very much a reality for anyone sexually active.

Alongside moving away from home, this will also be the first time that many students will begin to explore sex and relationships.

Therefore, universities are in a great position to offer and provide sexual health services.

However, many of these services differ from university to university and it may be difficult to access information and advice in a non-judgemental way.

Whilst the onus for obtaining sexual health information should not solely fall on your shoulders, it is important to be aware of the risks of unsafe sex.

It is also worth remembering that looking after your sexual health is normal and nothing to feel embarrassed about.

Samantha Disney, service manager at sexual health charity Terence Higgins Trust says:

“Treat going to an STI clinic in the same way you would go to your doctors or dentist.

“Looking after your sexual health is a normal part of life.”

Fortunately, looking after your sexual health is simple and STIs can be easily avoided.

By following these tips, you can explore your sexuality at university while staying safe every time.

Get Tested Regularly

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Getting tested for STIs is a straightforward, quick and confidential process.

In 2019 alone, there were 468,342 new STI diagnoses made at sexual health clinics in England.

Unless you notice symptoms such as lumps, bumps, sores and blisters, you may not realise you have been with someone who has an STI.

Therefore, the best thing to do if you are sexually active is to get regular check-ups just to be on the safe side.

University students can get a free STI test at their local NHS sexual health clinic.

With an early diagnosis, most infections can be cured.

Regular check-ups are crucial in maintaining good sexual health as having had an STI once does not make you immune to it.

Whilst it does not necessarily increase your chances, you can get the same infection again.

Don’t Ignore Symptoms

How to Look After Your Sexual Health at University

Symptoms associated with STIs can sometimes be embarrassing, and not something you may want to bring up with your friends or housemates in conversation.

The symptoms can be very painful, uncomfortable and can even affect your day-to-day life.

Symptoms include rashes, unusual discharge or a burning sensation, amongst others.

Depending on the specific disease, the symptoms of STIs can vary, however, they should be addressed as soon as possible.

STIs do not simply disappear in a couple of weeks by themselves, and they can get worse the longer they are left untreated.

Therefore, the best thing to do is to make an appointment as soon as you can.

The best-case scenario is that it ends up being a false alarm, but it is better to know in any case.

If you do suspect you have an STI or you have received a positive diagnosis, then you should refrain from sex until your treatment is complete and your doctor has given you the thumbs-up.

Be wary of Alcohol

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Staying out late with no repercussions and drinking and socialising with new friends is the norm for many university students during Fresher’s Week.

Both big nights in and out are often a large part of the university experience.

For some university students, that may mean drinking more than you usually do.

It goes without being said – alcohol can lead to poor decision-making.

Whilst one-night stands and casual hook-ups can be exciting, you should always prioritise your sexual health.

If and when the time comes, make sure you are carrying some form of protection.

Many young people mistakenly believe that alcohol is an aphrodisiac and rely on it for a confidence boost.

However, too much alcohol can reduce your sex drive over time.

If you do not want to give up drinking altogether, try to pace yourself and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

To avoid waking up with a potential STI scare and a headache, pay attention to your alcohol intake.

If alcohol is a factor in your sexual activity, consent can be harder to be sure of.

Therefore, if you or your partner cannot make informed decisions, stop engaging in any kind of sexual activity.

Protection is Your Responsibility

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Whilst the onus of protection shouldn’t belong to one person specifically, always assume no one else has any form.

Ideally, you should consider looking for sexual partners who are happy to share the responsibility of protection and are comfortable discussing sexual health with you.

Condoms are the most popular form of protection as they are extremely effective at protecting against STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

Young people often do not like using condoms because carrying them can be seen as a sign of promiscuity.

In 2015, Public Health England’s figures revealed that cases of STIs like syphilis had soared.

With condoms, there is no excuse as they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and types to suit everyone and their needs.

Having said that, it is important to remember that condoms do expire.

Most condoms have a shelf life of 3-5 years but that is only if they have not been damaged during this time.

You can grab a couple of new condoms at your student union or sexual health services on campus.

Contraception clinics, some GP surgeries and young people’s services are also viable options for protection.

Talk to your Partners

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It is worth keeping in mind that each new sexual partner has their own history.

Therefore, if you are not in a monogamous relationship or abstaining from sex altogether, you need to be mindful of their history.

Talking openly about past experiences with your sexual partners is crucial in ensuring good sexual health.

Similarly, if you suspect you have an STI or have received a positive diagnosis, you should tell your sexual partner and any ex-partners so that they can get tested and treated as well.

However, if you do not feel comfortable enough to do this, the sexual health clinic can usually do it for you.

The process is called partner notification and the sexual health clinic will not reveal your identity.

University is all about meeting new people and trying new things, and for some, that includes sex.

Practising safe sex on an active basis is normal.

As well as following these tips, many universities provide information on all things sexual health-related.

Your student union may even have less common services available such as rape alarms, ‘giving consent’ classes and counselling sessions for sexual health issues.

As a student, you should take advantage of the services offered to you. A large majority of them are free and are incredibly useful.

Your sexuality should be explored and enjoyed, especially during university, as long as you are being careful.

Sexual health can have a monumental impact on your physical and mental wellbeing if not taken seriously.

Starting university and moving away from your family home may be the first time that you can look forward to a bit more freedom.

In your pursuit to have a good time, do not forget the repercussions of not prioritising your sexual health.

On top of academic stress and general university anxieties, the last thing you want to be worrying about is if you have potentially caught an STI from a partner.

As a result, looking after your sexual health at university, by having an awareness of the risks and taking precautions, is extremely important.

Ravinder is currently studying BA Hons in Journalism. She has a strong passion for all things fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. She also likes to watch films, read books and travel.