Dr Yaz’s expert advice on keeping sexually well when starting university
So, you’ve made it to university. Congrats! Having survived the stress of exams (and worse, UCAS track) you’re embarking on the educational adventure of a lifetime. For many people this will be accompanied by hedonistic partying fuelled by VKs, and where there’s a sugar-filled, radioactively coloured beverage, there’s often a whole lot of regret.
Whether your bedroom antics are a source of much despair, or your bed-hopping leads you to your soulmate, the NHS sexual health services are likely to be helpful to you. Here are 10 things you need to know about accessing care for your nether regions!
Who can provide sexual health services and advice?
Sexual health services are available from a whole host of places. First up is your GP. Your top priority, after working out where your lectures are and ignoring your reading list, should be registering with a local practice.
Sexual health clinics are another great place to get help, with many offering drop-in sessions. These can be NHS funded or run by charities, such as Brook and the FPA. Your student union will also be on hand to provide services such as free condoms and pregnancy tests, as well as pointing you in the direction of local clinics.
Everyone who is sexually active should have an STI check up (at least) once a year. This usually involves swabs or urine samples, as well as blood tests for those who are more at risk of blood-borne infections. You should also get an MOT for your downstairs every time you change partners, or engage in unprotected sex with a new person.
At university you may feel like you can’t move for free condoms. However, this isn’t the only pregnancy prevention option on offer. Head to your GP or local GUM clinic – they will be able to tell you more about coils, implants and the good ol’ fashioned pill. Don’t forget though: barrier methods are the only way of avoiding those pesky STIs.
It might have been the funny discharge, the burning when you pee, or just your annual check up. You tested positive for an STI, and you’re being treated. No problem, right? Except that, as a polite and courteous sexual partner, you’re now going to have to go back to your recent ex-lovers and let them know.
This can be a bit daunting, but your local sexual health clinic will be able to offer contact tracing, meaning they do the awkward bit. You let them know who to call and they’ll let them know in a “relatively” anonymous manner.
Creating life is a beautiful thing, but for some people it comes completely out of the blue. This can be a difficult time for all involved, so don’t forget that sexual health clinics aren’t just for condoms and STI tests, they can also provide pregnancy tests, and support you during an unplanned pregnancy. It’s best to access help as soon as you suspect you might be pregnant. Your GP or clinic can offer advice on your next steps, regardless of whether you choose to continue your pregnancy or not.
Also, remember that (although less effective the longer you wait) you can take the morning-after pill up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. It is available for free at GUM clinics, and you can purchase it at pharmacies.
Sexual health isn’t just about avoiding STIs and pregnancy, but also about good healthy sexual relationships. Problems with sexuality or sexual function aren’t often talked about, but services are still available to help you.
Your university LGBT+ society should be your first port of call if you are struggling with sexuality or gender identity. The charity Relate offer couples and single person counselling on a whole host of topics, and offer specific young people’s services across the country.
Confidentiality is a absolute must throughout the NHS. Even so, not all people want their sexual health documented in their notes. Accessing GUM clinics is a way of keeping these separate, as they will not contact your GP surgery unless you consent or it is absolutely necessary.
The one thing you should never have sex, or any kind of sexual activity without, is consent. During your freshers’ week you may well take part in consent workshops or be offered sessions. These can be enlightening for all involved and are highly recommended. You may think you know all you need to, but open and frank discussion will reduce stigma and foster safer environments.
Sexual abuse and assault
This is a sensitive subject, but unfortunately sexual abuse and assault do happen at university. Whilst some stigma remains, this should never put you off. Regardless of your gender, what you did or didn’t have to drink, where it happened, who it happened with – if you did not consent it is assault, and you have a right to report it. Your GP or GUM clinic, or the police, will be able to put you in contact with the local sexual assault services. From there you may be interviewed, examined and counselled.
Where to find help: