The College Student’s Guide to Safe & Healthy Intimate Relationships Straight Talk on Hook Ups, STDs, and Taking Control of Your Reproductive Health

For most students, the college years are a time for tremendous transition and growth. They are not only learning in academic terms, but they are learning about themselves and how they relate to others, including on an intimate level. Students may assert their newfound independence in a number of ways, including embarking on sexual relationships. For many students, the college years are when they first become sexually active. While they may feel well equipped to handle themselves in these relationships, they may not be armed with adequate sexual health and safety knowledge and may make decisions and choices that can place them at increased risk for health issues or risky sexual encounters.

This guide was created to remove some of the mystery from sexual health and give students the appropriate resources and information to make sure they stay healthy, happy and safe throughout their college days and beyond.

The Link Between
Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health

An important part of sexual health is a positive, respectful approach to sexual relationships. Having a healthy sexual relationship with someone is one of the great joys of life, but it takes mutual understanding and common beliefs in order to achieve it. Open and honest discussion, without shame or blame, is the key to forming strong personal and sexual relationships with others.

Campus Culture: Hooking Up & Friends with Benefits

Many people in college choose to forgo the relationships altogether and instead look for “friends with benefits,” or the occasional hookup. Although it might seem like everyone is doing it, the truth is plenty of students aren’t. A study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that 84 percent of college kids talked about hooking up, but only 54 percent of them actually had sex during the school year.

Those revealing numbers don’t change the fact that the hookup culture in college is becoming more common. Students face interesting new problems when engaging in hookups rather than typical relationships or dating, as they might deal with emotional confusion, concerns about reputation, or hookups fueled by alcohol or drugs – which could lead to a whole other host of issues, such as forgetting to use a condom or doing things that might lead to embarrassment in the harsh light of day.

Relationship Resources

  • Center for Young Women’s Health

    This website is designed to offer information on relationships, sexuality, fitness and nutrition, gynecological and medical issues, and other points about sexual health.

  • Love is Respect

    This site empowers young people to enter into healthy, strong relationships.

  • SmarterSex.org

    This comprehensive and fun website offers everything from answers to “embarrassing” sexual questions to solid studies on relationships, sexuality and more.

  • Young Men’s Health

    The counterpart to the Center for Young Women’s Health, this site offers information geared toward the men on campus with pertinent information on STDs, relationships and more.

Risk Reduction at Parties and on Dates

Your sexual health includes all aspects of what happens to your body. For some women and men, that includes what others have done to them without their permission. Anyone can be a perpetrator or victim of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is not only a crime, it is also a serious threat to your sexual health, as sexual assault and rape come with their own set of worries – the potential for STDs and concerns about pregnancy, not to mention the emotional scars it can inflict. Sexual assault and rape are never the fault of the victim or survivor.

What If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted?

Sexual assault is a crime – period. If you have been sexually assaulted, immediate help is of the utmost importance. Here’s what to do right away:

  • Get somewhere safe

    Get away from the perpetrator and find a safe place to gather yourself and consider your next steps.

  • Seek medical attention

    Whether or not you choose to report, your physical health is extremely important. A hospital can conduct forensic exams, also known as rape kits. Going through a forensic exam does NOT mean you have to report. Hospitals can anonymously hold your kit for up to 30 days, sometimes longer. This way you can have some time to make your decision about reporting.

    If you decide to skip the forensic exam, consider being tested for STIs, STDs and HIV, and get the appropriate treatment. Also be sure to get bruises or lacerations treated properly. Whatever you decide regarding reporting, taking care of yourself medically is important.

  • Consider your reporting options

    You have different options when reporting a sexual assault, according to www.reportingoptions.org:

    1) Information Only Report: Any report of sexual assault where no investigative process beyond a victim’s interview and/or an Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault (ISSA) is begun or completed.

    2) Partial Investigation: Any report of sexual assault where some investigative processes beyond the victim interview and ISSA have been initiated by law enforcement. This may include interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence with a Sexual Assault Forensics Examination (SAFE) kit.

    3) Complete Investigation: Any report of sexual assault where all investigative measures are taken to determine if probable cause exists and a criminal offense has been initiated. This may vary by state.

    You may change from an Information Only report to a Partial or Complete Investigation at any time, or from a Complete to Partial Investigation as long as the investigation is ongoing. All reporting information is documented and kept on record. A victim is encouraged to report even if they have no intention of filing criminal charges. The National Center for Victims of Crime also provides reporting resources.

    You may also consider reporting to your school’s Title IX Coordinator. This person is in charge of investigating sexual assault reports on campus or if individuals involved are students. It is not a formal police investigation, but could help you create safety plans or move dorms if need be.

  • Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673)

    You’ll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area. They will direct you to the appropriate local health facility that can care for survivors of sexual assault. Some service providers may be able to send a trained advocate to accompany you.

  • Seek support

    What happened was not your fault. You may need emotional support. Contact your local rape crisis center, who can put you in touch with counselors and other emotional support systems free of charge or at lower prices Also consider trustworthy friends and family for support.

Date Rape Statistics

  • 57% of rapes occur while out on a date.
  • As many as 84% of women are raped by someone they know.
  • In 10% of rape cases, the victim is a man.
  • 20-25% of college-aged women have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault by the time they graduate.

Date Rape and Date Rape Drugs

  • Many cases of date rape start with drugs that incapacitate the victim, or render the victim completely unable to remember what happened during the assault. These drugs can come in pills, liquids or powders, and usually have no color, smell or taste. This includes Rohypnol (“roofies”), gamma hydroxyburyric (GHB) and Ketamine. However, the most frequently used date-rape drug is alcohol.
  • Though some newer formulations of date rape drugs are designed to change color when dropped into a drink, those colors can be tough to see when blended with a dark beverage, such as cola, or when used at a party where dim lighting is the norm. If you do not remember what happened the night before, or if you find that you are unable to move, think clearly, or otherwise function appropriately, you might have been drugged. If you believe this to be true, call the police and report this crime. If you believe you may have been assaulted, also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Consent: Avoid Becoming the Perpetrator

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, but anyone can also become a perpetrator. Many factors might come into play and blur boundaries, from excessive alcohol consumption to peer pressure. Even the most trusted friend or partner can come close to crossing the line, so it’s good to identify situations and signs that things could get out of control.

Sharing a bed

Crashing with a friend? Sharing a bed is not an invitation for physical contact, and even if there is physical contact, it does not make the situation sexual. Offering the couch or air mattress to guests and setting up the pillows and blankets before you go out makes it a more convenient option when you get home, and if you do share a bed, establish boundaries first.

1
Unreciprocated physicality

In the heat of the moment, what may seem like simple flirting can quickly lead to something more physical. If someone isn’t responding equally or reciprocating basic physical contact in return, stop, even if they don’t explicitly tell you “no”. Silence does not mean yes. “Maybe” does not mean yes. “I don’t know” does not mean yes.

2
Straying from the group

Parties are often a spawning ground for peer pressure situations, but straying from the group or sticking someone else in a one-on-one situation can lead to trouble. Especially when drinking in excess, stick with the crowd and urge friends to do the same, even if a more private situation seems tempting.

3
Understanding limits

College students often test their limits with drugs and alcohol, but understanding those limits is key. Abusing substances to the point of blackout or memory loss does not condone damaging activity done under the influence. Understanding and managing your limits, and in turn helping friends do the same can help prevent dangerous situations.

4
Convincing behavior

Any healthy relationship, physical or friendly, is a two-way street. If you have to convince your partner to do or say something, check yourself. This goes for any type of behavior, physical or not. Sexual acts should include enthusiastic consent from both sides, not coercion.

5
Misreading signals

The way someone looks or acts is not an automatic invitation for physicality; don’t assume someone is sending “signals” unless they explicitly say so. Be respectful of other’s personal space, unless they can look you in the eye and clearly verbalize otherwise.

6

Consider this general rule: If you are too intoxicated to trust yourself to drive a car, you may be too intoxicated for sexual activity.

Tips for Risk Reduction

While sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, there are some ways to reduce the risk of sexual violence on campus, while at parties, or even while out on dates. Take these steps over and over until they become second nature.

  • Always have a plan

    Whether it is choosing a designated driver or planning to leave the party with a particular friend – and no exceptions! – planning ahead can keep you safe.

  • Watch your drink

    Never accept a drink that is offered in an open cup, don’t dip into the punch bowl, and never leave your drink unattended.

  • Don’t drink to excess

    Too much alcohol can mean loss of control, which can mean you are in a dangerous situation. Drink carefully and stay focused. If you do drink to excess, grab someone from your friend group and tell them you’re ready to go home.

  • Use the buddy system

    This means going to a party with a “buddy” and looking out for each other. If you begin to feel drugged, tell your buddy, who can help get you to safety. Be a good lookout for your buddy as well.

  • Keep dates public

    Never agree to take things into a private setting until you have known the person for quite some time – at least a few dates’ worth of time.

  • Be aware of your surroundings

    Look around the party, stay alert when walking to and from your dorm, park your car in a well-lighted area, and walk with a friend if you can.

  • Take precautions

    Keep your door locked. When out late at night, take advantage of campus shuttles or buses. Know where emergency phones are located.

Keeping students safe on campus is the goal of our Campus Safety Guide. Visit it to learn more about campus safety, including sexual assault.

Date Rape & Campus Assault Resources

  • 911 Rape

    Sponsored by the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Medical Center on Santa Monica, this site is a goldmine of information on what to expect after a rape happens.

  • After Silence

    This online support group is designed for those who have been raped and are seeking support from others who have been in the same situation.

  • It’s On Us

    This site is a companion to NotAlone.gov. Visitors can sign a pledge to recognize, identify and intervene in sexual assault situations.

  • National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

    Sponsored by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, this hotline is available at all hours to connect victims to a support specialist.

  • NotAlone.gov

    This site, in partnership with the Whitehouse, offers crucial assistance on how to help as a bystander or friend, along with information for those who’ve been assaulted.

  • Survival Guide for Victims of Acquaintance Rape

    This service of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers a wealth of information on what students can do after suffering a sexual assault.

  • Take Back the Night

    This site focuses on how to stop sexual violence, including date rape. There are numerous resources to be found here on how to get involved, how to get help and more.

  • The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault

    From providing counseling and sexual assault support to educating and leading community outreach, the NYCAASA’s mission is to end sexual assault everywhere. They provide extensive research and offer ways to get involved on their site.

What is Sexual Health?

The World Health Organization currently defines sexual health as: “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

Your Sexual Health: 4 Questions

You may not have given much thought to your sexual health. Here are four questions to ask yourself to ensure you are on the right track toward good sexual health.

Do I have the proper knowledge?

What you have learned from your friends might not be enough or entirely accurate. Turn to reputable sources, including your student health clinic and physician, in order to get the low-down on sexual topics.

What is my comfort zone?

A very important part of sexual health is understanding your personal limits. Only you can decide where your comfort zone lies. Keeping your emotional and physical well-being in mind, think about your past and future sexual experiences, and what kinds of sexual situations you’re comfortable with.

Am I ready for sex?

Sexuality includes more than just a physical act – it is mental and emotional as well. Being ready for sex means being mature enough to handle the associated emotional and physical reactions or effects it may produce. Consider the pros and cons, and trust your gut instinct.

Am I protected?

If you are ready to be intimate with someone else, always use protection. Don’t count on your partner to take care of it – when it comes to protecting yourself, the buck stops with you.

Your Student Health Center & Sexual Health

When it comes to sexual health, the student health center may be a good place to start. In addition to basic services and health education, many health centers offer STD testing, pregnancy testing, pap smears, safer sex supplies (such as free condoms, dental dams and the like), birth control pills for students who are prescribed them, the “morning after” pill and other pertinent services.

Just as with any other medical facility, your reasons for going to the student health clinic are confidential, as are the treatments and information you might receive there. Look for information online at your school’s website, and make an appointment to find out more. Do keep in mind that if you are still on your parent or guardian’s health insurance, a doctor visit and procedures may show up in their insurance claims statements. Public clinics will often provide quality services for significantly lower prices, and may be an alternative option for students.

Characteristics of Colleges That Support Sexual Health Practices

What makes a college stand out from the crowd when promoting sexual health? It all begins with the student health center. Here’s what matters most, according to the methodology of Trojan Condoms’ rankings.

1

The student health center page or website should have a comprehensive section dedicated to answering questions about sexual health, thus allowing students to get important information without necessarily having to go into the health center to get it.

2

The information should be available via a prominent link; students should not have to dig for what they need.

3

Students choosing to go to the center should find it easy to schedule an appointment, and the student health center should also accept walk-ins.

4

Expanded hours of operation are a must for busy college students.

5

Contraceptives should be available to students who request them – bonus points if they are free or offered at cost.

6

Free condoms should be readily available and easily accessible, no questions asked.

7

STD testing should be available on site, either free or at cost. (Though the test might have to be sent off campus for results – this is routine with some centers.)

8

The same with HIV testing. It should be available to anyone, either free or at cost.

9

Lectures and outreach programs are a sign of a student health center that truly cares about the sexual health of students on campus.

10

Comprehensive sexual assault programs should be readily available to anyone who needs help.

11

Finally, bonus points to those schools who offer extra credit programs for students who attend sexual health presentations or programs.

Want to know where your school stands? See Trojan Condoms’ Sexual Health Report Card to see how 140 colleges and universities ranked for promoting positive sexual health in their students.

Student Health Center Resources

  • American Sexual Health Association

    This is a great place to begin for information on anything that pertains to sexual health, from condom use to pregnancy to finding the best healthcare providers.

  • Spread the Health

    This blog of Boston University focuses on the questions that many students are afraid to ask, especially those of a sexual nature.

  • Student Health 101

    This site from Clemson University answers many questions students might have about their health, including sexual health.

  • University of Florida Student Health Care Center

    This comprehensive site offers in-depth discussion on what to expect from student health services, as well as plenty of links for more information.

  • USC Engemann Student Health Center

    This is an excellent example of a comprehensive website offered by a university, where students can find answers on everything from general health questions to insurance and payment plans.

STIs and STDs: What You Should Know

The risk of sexually transmitted diseases or infections might be higher than you think. According to Stanford University’s Sexual Health Peer Resource Center, one in four college students has an STD. In fact, according to the CDC, nearly half of the 20 million people newly diagnosed with STIs each year are between the ages of 15 and 24. Each time you have unprotected sex, your risks of contracting an infection or disease go up.

What is the difference between STIs and STDs?

There is a slight but important difference between an STI and STD. STD means “sexually transmitted disease,” while STI means “sexually transmitted infection.” Though STD is the more traditional term, many experts advocate the use of STI when discussing potential infections or diseases contracted through sexual contact. That’s because STI has a broader definition that includes infections that are curable and cause no symptoms. In this guide, we use the terms interchangeably.

   
What if you think you have an STI or STD?

One of the most frightening aspects of a sexually transmitted disease or infection is that many are initially “silent,” meaning that there are no symptoms. However, your body is under attack, and the consequences could be devastating – including reproductive problems, infertility and worsening health issues. That’s why testing is so important. If you believe you have been exposed – for instance, a condom broke during sex – get tested immediately. If you are sexually active, get tested on a regular basis.

   
How to get tested

Getting tested starts with a trip to your student health center. They should be equipped to test you for any STD or STI. Some tests require a swab of the penis or cervix, or the overall genital area; others require a simple blood test. Results are usually available within days.

STIs and How They’re Treated

Name Symptoms Treatment Type (viral or bacterial)
Chlamydia

Most show no symptoms; those who do have symptoms experience abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, discharge from the penis, pain while urinating, pain during sex

Usually one dose of an antibiotic. This is a curable STI.

Bacterial

Gonorrhea

Usually no symptoms, though some might experience problems similar to that of Chlamydia. Men might suffer from urinary tract infections.

Treatment usually involves a course of antibiotics.

Bacterial

Syphilis

No symptoms at first; after a few months, ulcers on the genitals, anus and mouth might occur. Symptoms become progressively worse, including eventual brain infections.

Treatment requires a course of antibiotics; the more advanced the disease is, the tougher it is to treat.

Bacterial

HIV/AIDS

Some might suffer from flu-like symptoms about two weeks after infection; some might experience no symptoms. HIV can take ten years or more to develop into AIDS.

Treatment includes an intensive anti-viral regimen; though there is no cure, proper treatment can slow down the disease progression.

viral

Hepatitis B

Symptoms appear within one to four months after exposure, and include abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain, fever, loss of appetite, weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and jaundice.

Antiviral medications can help protect the liver from progressive damage.

viral

Hepatitis C

No symptoms until the condition becomes chronic, which usually takes several years.

Antiviral medications, administered over the course of 24 to 72 weeks, might clear the virus from the body.

viral

Genital Herpes

Most have no signs until an outbreak; an outbreak might include pain or itching of the genital area, small red bumps or blisters, and ulcers or scabs.

No cure is available; however, antiviral medications can help lessen the occurrence of outbreaks.

viral

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Symptoms might be so slight as to be unnoticeable; however, some notice genital warts, which include flesh-colored or gray swelling in the genital area, several warts in a cauliflower shape, itching or discomfort, and bleeding with intercourse.

Treatments include topical medications to help control pain and itching.

viral

Preventing and Reducing the Risk of STIs and STDs

Students can reduce the risk of developing an STI or STD by practicing safer sex. This includes using barrier methods of contraception for every sexual encounter, limiting the number of sexual partners, knowing the history of your sexual partners, and never taking harmful risks, such as having sex with someone you don’t know. Getting vaccinated against Hepatitis B and HPV can lower your risks. Getting tested on a regular basis can provide peace of mind.

Busting STD/STI Myths

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about STDs and STIs. Below are some of the most widely spread myths about STDs and STIs.

Myth 1: You can’t get STDs from oral sex.

Though not all STIs are transmitted through oral sex, some definitely can be. One example is herpes, which could be transmitted through a cold sore.

Myth 2: You will be able to tell if your partner has an STI.

Not necessarily. Since many infections do not cause a single symptom, your partner might not have any clue they have an STI either.

Myth 3: Condoms will protect me from everything.

Though condoms can cut down on the risk of infection, they don’t eliminate it entirely. Abstinence is the only sure way to avoid an STD, but talking to your partner and getting tested often can also minimize risk.

Myth 4: STDs are only a problem for those with a lot of partners.

The truth is that it takes only one sexual encounter to contract an infection, and sometimes it is impossible to tell who has an STD and who does not. Even partners in long term relationships may pass on an infection they didn’t know about.

Myth 5: The withdrawal method is good protection against STDs.

The withdrawal method isn’t good protection against anything, including STDs, pregnancy or HIV. It simply doesn’t work.

STD & STI Testing Resources

  • 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines

    This report from the CDC explains in detail what treatments are used for certain STDs and what patients can expect from their course of medication or other treatments.

  • Get Tested

    This service of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helps anyone find a nearby testing facility.

  • It’s Your (Sex) Life

    This site offers important information on STDs, getting tested and how to talk to your partner about their sexual history.

  • STD Testing: Conversation Starters

    This service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers ways to start the sometimes difficult conversation of STD testing with your partner.

  • STD Wizard

    Still not sure you’re at risk? This wizard will help you decide if it’s time to get tested.

Unplanned Pregnancy in College

“My period is late!” That sudden realization can strike terror into the heart of any young woman, especially one who is in college and had no intentions of starting a family anytime soon. Unplanned pregnancy happens more than you might think. Fifty-one percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and the highest number of unplanned pregnancies happened among women between the ages of 20 and 24, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

College students in the U.S. have a variety of options available to them in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy.

Method What is it? Where can you get it? Pros Cons
Birth Control Pills

One of the most common forms of birth control, the “pill” is a hormonal medication that prevents ovulation and regulates the menstrual cycle.

By prescription only, through your physician, a family planning clinic, or student health clinic.

Easy to take and proven very effective, the pill is a convenient way to prevent pregnancy if used as directed.

Does not prevent STDs or STIs; some women might forget to take it every day; might cause menstrual cycle problems for some women.

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

Available in either hormonal or non-hormonal forms, this is a vaginal insert that protects against ovulation for a period of 3 to 10 years, depending upon brand.

The IUD must be inserted by a medical professional; it is an outpatient procedure.

Provides constant birth control without the need to remember to use it; effective rate is extremely high. The hormonal version might make periods very light or stop them altogether.

Does not prevent STDs or STIs; some women might experience heavy periods and cramping, especially on the non-hormonal version.

Condoms

A barrier method of contraception that prevents pregnancy and helps protect against many STDs.

Can be purchased over-the-counter or obtained for free at health clinics. This Condom Guide from Sir Richards can help students choose the right condom by size and type.

Offers protection against most STDs; does not contain hormones; can be obtained and used with ease and no side effects

Does not provide long-term birth control; a new one must be used every time, properly, without fail, in order to prevent pregnancy and lower the risk of STDs

Patch

A hormonal patch that adheres to the skin for a period of up to 21 days; it is then removed and replaced 7 days later.

By prescription, but can be obtained at health clinics as well as from a physician.

Convenient; doesn’t require daily maintenance.

Some users might experience itchy and raw skin where the patch was applied. Does not protect against STDs.

Ring

A hormonal ring placed against the cervix; protects against pregnancy for up to 21 days before being replaced.

By prescription or through health clinics.

Convenient to use and does not require daily maintenance to protect against pregnancy.

Does not protect against STDs. The ring might fall out unnoticed during the cycle, so regular self-checks to ensure placement are recommended.

Implant

A small hormonal implant placed under the skin of the upper arm; can protect against pregnancy for up to three years.

By prescription; insertion is done as an outpatient procedure.

Once inserted, the implant can be forgotten about for three years as it protects against pregnancy.

Does not protect against STDs. There might be some irritation in the area where the implant was inserted.

Depo Provera

The “shot” is given in the upper arm or buttock, and lasts for 10-12 weeks.

By prescription or through the health clinic.

The shot provides pregnancy protection for 10-12 weeks. Very convenient or those who don’t want to think about daily birth control.

The shot does not protect against STDs. Clinic visits every 10-12 weeks are required for a new dose.

What to Do About an Unwanted Pregnancy

If you think you might be pregnant, there are a few steps you must take right now to ensure the proper medical care, regardless of what your future choices might be.

Take a pregnancy test

First things first – it’s time to find out for sure. Pregnancy tests are readily available over the counter, but free tests are likely available at the student health center.

1
See the doctor

If the test is positive, get in to see the doctor immediately. No matter how you feel about the situation, it is important to see a doctor who can provide information and services. This visit will include another pregnancy test, just to be sure, and might include other tests, such as bloodwork or a scan.

2
Weigh the options

A surprise pregnancy can leave your head spinning. But within the first few weeks, it’s necessary to seriously consider all options.

  • Keeping the child

    If you choose to keep the baby, what does that mean for your education? Do you have a support system, the financial means to raise a child, and the wherewithal to change your life over the next nine months? Support from family members and friends makes all the different to those who opt to keep the baby.

  • Adoption

    If you want to carry the baby to term but you can’t imagine being able to take care of the child, adoption might be the answer. Some young people who are not ready to be parents choose private adoption, and there are many loving families waiting to welcome a new baby into them.

  • Abortion

    In some cases, terminating the pregnancy might be the answer, but only you can decide. You will want to seriously contemplate the advantages and disadvantages, along with your beliefs and personal situation, when you consider whether an abortion is the right step to take.

  • Other considerations

    If you have strong family support, you might be able to make arrangements with family members to help with the child. If you have a loving partner who wants to be a part of the child’s life, that is a factor to consider as well. Remember to take all the pieces of the puzzle and look at them all carefully before making a decision.

3
Make plans

When you have chosen the option that feels right for you, take steps to make it a reality. Depending upon your choice, you have anywhere from a few weeks to nine months to make those plans.

4
Emergency Contraception: Plan B

Known as Plan B or the “morning after” pill, this emergency contraception is available through pharmacies nationwide. Some pills are over-the-counter, some are behind the pharmacy desk, while still others are only available via prescription. The over-the-counter versions don’t have an age restriction, and an ID is not required for purchase.

Emergency contraception works by preventing ovulation, which in turn prevents pregnancy. It is not an abortion pill. Instead, it provides a strong dose of hormones that upset the natural reproductive cycle. Most are only one pill; in order to be most effective, it should be taken as soon as possible after sex. There are side effects to taking the pill that can be serious, so be sure to discuss this with your healthcare professional or pharmacist and read instructions carefully. Also note that Plan B shouldn’t be used as a contraceptive method, as it does not protect against STIs or STDs.

You can find the morning after pill at pharmacies, or your student health clinic might stock it. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women actually have the morning after pill on hand, just in case they need it.

Guys: She’s Pregnant. Now What?

When you hear that your girlfriend – or hookup buddy, or weekend fling, or even one-night stand – is pregnant, panic is probably going to be the first thing that hits you. And that’s okay: no matter what decisions are made in the near future, this is a life-changing moment. So give it the gravity it deserves. Take a deep breath. Take some time to think it over. Then take some time to talk it through.

You might be in a tough spot, because ultimately, what happens is the woman’s decision. She is the one who must decide to carry the baby – or not. She decides whether to keep the baby – or not. Your job at this point is to support her, no matter what her decision might be, even if that choice is not the one you want her to make.

This can be very difficult. In fact, this might be one of the most mature, unselfish things you will ever do in your life. So approach it carefully and conduct yourself in a way that will bring you no regrets.

Giving her the support she needs, no matter the decisions or the outcome, is the right thing to do. But you need support too, so seek it out. You can find strong support from friends, understanding family members and the counselors at your student health center. And hopefully, you and your partner will be able to support each other through those life-changing choices.

Unplanned Pregnancy Resources

  • Birthright International

    This worldwide organization provides heartfelt information for those facing an unplanned pregnancy who don’t wish to terminate.

  • Our Bodies, Ourselves

    This site offers evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s reproductive health and sexuality, including information on pregnancy and how to cope with an unplanned pregnancy.

  • The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

    This comprehensive site offers strong background information on unplanned pregnancy, contraception and birth control, and many tips on how to avoid pregnancy before you’re ready.

  • Planned Parenthood

    With information on everything from sexual health to birth control to pregnancy and birth options, this very popular organization likely has a clinic near your college campus.

From the Expert

Victoria M. Beltran, MPH, CHES discusses college student sexual health.

Interviewwith Victoria M. Beltran

What do you see as the biggest problem in sexual health for college students today?

I think most students want to know about sexual health but don’t quite know where to get the right information. There are a lot of reputable websites that may not come up first in their search, so they might be getting non-evidence based information. Also, a lot of students don’t know how to take care of their sexual health. As adults, many of them may be making healthcare decisions on their own for the first time, and unfortunately, parents don’t always teach their children the right questions to ask when seeing a healthcare provider.

What are some steps students can take to protect their sexual health?

First off, make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Even if you’re not having sex, they will check you out to make sure everything is ok. If you have any questions, they can help you out! Second, know what to ask. Ask anything and everything, it’s up to you to get the right information to make the right decisions about your body. Third, always use protection. Birth control is fantastic and the longer lasting, the better, but prescribed birth control doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections. Only barrier methods like male and female condoms do that. So either use condoms correctly and consistently, or use a combination of birth control and condoms to make sure you’re fully protected.

What good habits can students implement right now to help ensure good sexual health throughout their life?

I always advise students to know their bodies. If you don’t know yourself, how can you ever expect another person to know what makes you tick? Masturbation is not only extremely healthy and normal, it’s a stress-reliever too, which every college student obviously needs! Also, don’t be afraid of your healthcare provider. A lot of students fear going to the doctor because rectal exams are uncomfortable or because pap smears aren’t the most fun or their provider might judge them for their sexual activity. It’s better to get checked out and be uncomfortable for a few minutes than to be sick and unhealthy and not even know it. Also, you have the right to a provider whom you can trust. So if your provider doesn’t “get” you, find another one who will.