August 30, 2021
Sexual health. It may not be the most comfortable topic to discuss, but it's incredibly important for college students' health and well-being. Here's what you need to know to stay healthy and safe.
Pick the Right Birth Control
When you’re sexually active, birth control prevents an unplanned pregnancy and keeps you and your partner safe from sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. There are many methods of contraception to discuss with your health-care provider. Here are some of the most popular.
Condoms prevent sperm from going into your sexual partner’s body. When used correctly, condoms can help prevent pregnancy with a success rate of 87% for external condoms and 79% for internal condoms. Latex condoms are also the only birth control that can also help lower the risk of transmitting HIV and other STDs.
Condoms should be used once and discarded after sex. Don’t use oil-based lubricants or petroleum jelly with latex condoms which can cause them to weaken or tear. The CDC offers more information on condoms, including step-by-step guides on how to correctly use both external and internal condoms. External condoms are placed over the head of an erect penis. Internal condoms are inserted into the vagina or anus and held in place by an inner and outer ring.
The pill prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones like progestin and estrogen into a woman’s body. It is 93% effective in preventing pregnancy when taken at the same time each day. It’s important to maintain a strict schedule while taking the pill. Even missing one pill can lower the chances of preventing pregnancy. Some women set a reminder on their phone to ensure they won’t forget to take their daily birth control pill.
IUDs (Intrauterine Devices)
IUDs are small devices placed directly inside the uterus by a health-care provider and can remain there for several years. Levonorgestrel IUDs release a small amount of progestin each day to prevent pregnancy. Copper IUDs do not contain hormones, but rather change the direction that sperm swim, preventing them from getting to the egg. Both types of IUDs are 99% effective.
This single, thin rod is placed directly under the skin of a woman’s upper arm. The rod contains the progestin hormone, released into the body to prevent pregnancy. The implant can remain in the arm for up to five years and has a 99% success rate.
The birth control shot also contains the hormone progestin which prevents pregnancy. While the shot has a 94% success rate when used effectively, you must receive a follow-up shot every 12-13 weeks for it to remain effective.
Birth Control Patches
Birth control patches, which can be worn on your belly, butt or back, release progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream to prevent ovulation. To use the patch effectively (with a 91% success rate), it must be changed every week on a schedule. Some patches will not work as effectively if submerged in water for more than 30 minutes at a time. It’s also important to wear the patch on an area of the body where your clothes will not rub and cause it to lift off.
Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Emergency contraceptive pills (sometimes known as the morning-after pill) are NOT a regular method of birth control. They can be used if no birth control was used during sex, or another method failed. This might be a condom breaking or birth control not used on the correct schedule.
These pills can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. However, the sooner they’re taken after sex, the better they work.
Some pills are available over the counter. Others might require a prescription from a doctor or campus health services.
Copper IUDs are also effective emergency contraception when inserted by a provider within five days of unprotected sex.
More Birth Control Methods
There are several other methods of birth control that can be used effectively to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Learn more at Planned Parenthood.
Get Screened for Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Fifty percent of all new STD (sexually transmitted disease) cases in the U.S. are among people under the age of 25. Because many STDs don’t cause noticeable symptoms, if you’re sexually active it’s important to get routinely tested for STDs.
It’s also important to remember that STDs aren’t only spread through intercourse. The same STDs spread through unprotected vaginal sex can also be spread through oral or anal sex without a condom. Some STDs can lead to serious health problems if they’re not treated (and they’re all treatable!). For example, an untreated STD can cause infertility, or even increase your chances of contracting HIV.
HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (or STI) that damages the immune system and interferes with the body’s ability to fight infection and disease. While there’s currently no cure for HIV, there are many medications that can control HIV and prevent complications and the progression to AIDS. If you or someone you know thinks they may have been infected with HIV or is at risk of contracting the virus, it’s important to get tested and see a provider as soon as possible.
Most four-year colleges offer STD diagnosis and treatment, as well as contraceptive services, through their student health centers. Lancaster General Health also has an STD clinic that offers free, private and confidential testing for STDs, including HIV. For other testing locations, check out the CDC’s website.
STD tests are typically quick, simple and painless and can give you and your partner peace of mind that you won’t unknowingly transmit an STD. While talking to your partner about STDs and getting tested might feel strange, it’s critical for your health and well-being, and can help stop the spread of STDs.
Talk to a Provider
If you or someone you know has questions about contraception, STD prevention, or STD testing and treatment, schedule time with a provider to discuss. While it might feel uncomfortable to talk about your sexual health, medical professionals are open, honest and non-judgmental. It’s their priority to keep you safe and healthy in all aspects of your life. Your primary care physician or OB-GYN are all knowledgeable, trusted resources.
Taking charge of your sexual health is one of the best things you can do for your overall well-being!