Sexual Health Care

Image of condoms

Healthy sexuality is an important part of overall wellness and means more than just sex and condoms.

It involves feeling informed and empowered to express your sexuality in a way that is consensual, respectful, and informed, and—ultimately—personally enriches your life.

Sexual health and sexuality are relevant to all of us - whether you’re a sexual novice, a sexpert, or abstinent. 

It doesn't matter whether you are single, dating, or in a relationship. It doesn’t matter how you identify yourself sexually. Sexuality is part of who you are, and healthy sexuality is important to your overall wellness. You should have as much information as possible to make informed choices about sexuality. The information and resources listed here can help you make healthy sexual choices now and in the future.

Get Informed

When it comes to making decisions about sex and sexuality, the best place to start is at the beginning. 

Getting informed about the basics of sexual health, and using this knowledge as a foundation from which you can start to build your definition of what healthy sexuality means to you. 

Am I ready? Decision-making and partner communication 

Communication with your partner(s) is a critical part of healthy sexuality. Open communication with partners about sexual history, STI testing, condoms, and boundaries/preferences can help make sure you’re on the same page for preventing unintended pregnancy, STIs, and HIV. Of course, honest and open communication about sensitive topics like sex and STIs can be challenging.

  • Schedule a health coaching appointment to address concerns or questions about personal readiness, partner communication, pregnancy, STI prevention, and/or sexual performance and pleasure. 

What is affirmative consent? 

Consent, at its most basic level, means everyone involved wants to participate. There are three pillars to consent:  

  • Knowing exactly what and how much a person is agreeing to
  • Expressing intent to participate
  • Freely and voluntarily expressing that intent    
At UHS, we support a culture of “enthusiastic consent,” which means YES MEANS YES! This idea of enthusiastic consent encourages individuals to provide their yes, to express their intent to participate and to ask their partner(s) for their yes. Some things to remember about consent:
  • Agreeing to one kind of sexual activity does not mean agreeing to another kind of sexual activity (for example, agreeing to oral sex does not mean agreeing to intercourse). 
  • Agreeing to sexual activity once does not imply future consent (just because you hooked up once doesn’t mean you will hook up in the same way again). 
  • Consent is a continuous process, so it’s a good idea to keep checking in with your partner(s) throughout the exchange (“Is this okay? How are you doing?”).  
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any point in the sexual encounter.
  • The golden rule is to ask! Asking for consent is mandatory, and it leads to more respectful, consensual, and communicative sex!
  • Consent cannot be given:  
    • Under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
    • If someone is passed out, unconscious, asleep, or coming in or out of consciousness
    • Under direct or implied threat of bodily harm or other forms of coercion 
    • If any party is under 18 years of age
    • If someone has a physical, developmental, or mental disability that impairs their ability to understand the act

Learn more about consent, services for survivors, and sexual assault and violence prevention at UC Berkeley

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV 

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that can be acquired during sexual or intimate contact. STIs are also sometimes referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It's useful to be familiar with both terms since many students and some healthcare providers may still use both. It is important to understand that a person can be infected with an STI without showing symptoms of a disease.    

STI symptoms vary by infection. Changes in odor, color, and texture of penile or vaginal discharge, as well as visible lesions, bumps, redness, itching, and tenderness, are common symptoms of some STIs. However, the most common symptom of an STI is to have no symptoms at all.   

STIs are generally discussed in one of three categories: viral, bacterial, and other. The main difference between these categories is what causes them and how they are subsequently treated. STIs can be spread by the exchange of bodily fluids and skin-to-skin contact. Semen, blood (including menstrual blood), and vaginal secretions are the most likely to transmit STIs; fluids such as saliva, sweat, and urine are unlikely to transmit STIs, though they can still transmit some bacteria and viruses.  

Learn more: Information on transmitting STIs by behavior

Viral STIs  

Viral STIs are caused by a virus. Some viral STIs are treatable - though not curable - by taking antiviral medication; you can think of them as the gifts that keep on giving. Other viral STIs may resolve on their own, or with clinical treatment. Many of the more common viral infections start with the letter “H.”  

Bacterial STIs 

Bacterial STIs are caused by microorganisms called bacteria. Bacterial STIs can often be treated and cured with antibiotic medication. However, if you are re-exposed to bacterial STIs, you may be at risk for repeated infection. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are the two most common bacterial STIs.  

Other STIs 

Other STIs can be caused by living organisms. STIs under this category can be effectively treated and cured by using prescribed medication in the form of pills, ointments, or creams.   

Pregnancy and Contraception 

Reproductive health planning - deciding for yourself whether, when, and how you would like pregnancy to fit into your life, now or in the future - is an essential part of both sexual health and overall wellness.  

Although planned pregnancies lead to healthier outcomes, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Approximately 85% of people who are sexually active with someone who can get them pregnant will become pregnant in 1 year without using any form of contraception. Whether you’re actively seeking pregnancy or actively trying to prevent it (for months, years, or ever), thinking about family planning now empowers people to make informed decisions about their reproductive lives.

Learn more: Contraception and Family Planning Services at UHS

LGBTQIA+ Services 

Our goal is to ensure that LGBTQIA+ students receive the highest quality care in a safe, respectful space. We do this by using inclusive language as well as offering a variety of services to help LGBTQIA+ students maintain optimal physical, mental, and emotional health.

  • Medical, Counseling, and Educational Services for LGBTQIA+ Students: For more information about how to schedule LGBTQ-specific medical appointments, our Trans Care Team, education, and coaching for coming out to friends and family  

Pleasure and sexual function

Let’s face it, the reason most college students participate in sex is because it is pleasurable! There are many ways to increase pleasure during solo sexual experiences and with partners.    

  • For increasing sexual pleasure with others, it is best to communicate openly and honestly. Don't be afraid to ask your partner what they like or how what you're doing feels to them. Don't be afraid to give your partner feedback about what they're doing to you. 
  • Have a basic understanding of anatomy—yours and your partner's. Take it slowly, especially if you're trying something new. Being relaxed and aroused increases your pleasure, and makes some activities, like vaginal penetration with a penis or toy, anal play, and fisting, much easier and more enjoyable. 
  • Don't treat orgasm, sexual intercourse, or any other sexual act as a goal that must be achieved. Spend time exploring each other's bodies and finding out what feels good. 
  • Use lube. Many sexual activities are enhanced by the use of lubrication—and some, like anal play or fisting, require it. Adding lube to condoms not only increases sexual pleasure but also increases durability.  
  • Use your hands. They're like built-in sex toys! Have fun with it!
  • If you are experiencing difficulty with arousal or other sexual functions, consider whether stress, poor sleep, anxiety, or other factors may be the culprit.    
Learn more: 

Sexual Health Education

  • Sexual Health Education Program (SHEP) - The Sexual Health Education Program's (SHEP) mission is to empower students to feel comfortable with their bodies and make informed decisions about their sex and sexuality, including whether or not to be sexually active.
  • Public Health 182: Sexual Health and Sexuality - The course encourages students to make informed sexual decisions and to be aware of the bio-medical, cultural, sociological, psychological, and public health education aspects of their sexuality.
  • Healthy Sexuality Health Coaching - a 45-minute coaching session will help you make changes in your lifestyle or sexual behaviors to improve your sexual health and sexuality. Partners are welcome! 

Get Protected

Knowing how to protect yourself from unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections is essential to your sexual health.

There is no way to have 100% risk-free sex, however, there are many steps you can take to substantially reduce your risks. Getting tested, using condoms and other barrier methods correctly, using birth control, and getting immunized against vaccine-preventable STIs are all ways to have safer sex.

What is “safer sex?"

While sex is never 100% safe, it can be made much safer by using the strategies described below. You should aim for consistent safer sex, but don't let one slip-up throw you off. Instead, just make sure you practice safer sex next time. Remember that alcohol and other drugs can impair your judgment, and plan accordingly.   

  • Use condoms every time you have vaginal or anal intercourse. Make sure you know how to use them properly. 
  • Use condoms for oral sex on a man, and dental dams or other barriers for oral-vaginal and oral-anal sex. 
  • Use condoms on sex toys, especially if used by more than one person or penetrating at more than one site (e.g. anus to vagina).
  • Use water-based or silicone-based lubricant with condoms. Lubricant increases sensation and helps to prevent STIs by decreasing friction. Never use oil-based products with latex. 
  • Never reuse condoms, dental dams, or other barriers. 
Finally, remember that sex is supposed to be fun, even when thinking about safer sex and STI prevention.

Condoms – What? When? Where? How?

Condoms are barrier methods that prevent the deposit of sperm and other body fluids into the orifice from being penetrated during penis-vagina, penis-anus, or penis-mouth sex. Condoms are the only contraceptive method that also protect against STIs, with the exception of animal skin condoms, which do not offer such protection.

Two types of condoms are currently available:

  • External condoms consist of a thin sheath of latex or polyurethane worn on the penis, but may also be worn on a sex toy or phallus-shaped object. With perfect use, a traditional condom is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy; with typical use, it is 85% effective.
  • Internal condoms are used for vaginas, but they can also be used for penis/toy-anus, penis/toy-vagina sex. Insertive condoms are made of nitrile, making them a great option for anyone with a latex sensitivity or allergy. They are 95% effective for preventing pregnancy with perfect use, and 79% effective with typical use.

For condoms to be most effective, they should be used every time you participate in mouth-penis, penis-vagina, and/or penis-anus sex. Condoms can be a sexy adventure for you and your partner. Try them in a variety of materials, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors! (Flavored condoms are for mouth-to-penis/toy play, and are not recommended for vaginal or anal penetration.)

Where to get condoms:

  • The UHS Pharmacy has you covered with name-brand, low-cost, no-hassle external condoms. 
  • Free condoms and other safer sex supply samples are also available during Health and Wellness Coaching appointments, as well as through Health Promotion outreach events and workshops.
  • The Health Worker Program provides free condoms to the communities they support.
  • The UHS Sexual Health Education Program (SHEP) provides free safer sex supply samples at all workshops and tabling events. If you would like to provide safer sex supplies at your campus event, please complete the Sexpress Order Form. Requests are approved on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last. SHEP also stocks free external condoms and lubrication samples at UHS. Check the display case located on the 2nd floor, near the stairs closer to Bancroft. For additional locations where you can purchase condoms feel free to check out the SHEP Safer Sex Supply Map.

Get Vaccinated

There are several sexually transmitted infections that can be safely and effectively prevented prior to exposure by the use of vaccines. These vaccine-preventable STIs include Human papillomavirus (HPV) and viral hepatitis (types A and B).   

HPV vaccination (Gardasil) is recommended for everyone between the ages of 9-26 and can be used to prevent genital warts, cervical cancer, and other HPV-associated cancers. It is most effective when administered prior to becoming sexually active for the first time.   

Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for everyone and is often administered in infancy. This vaccine effectively prevents the Hepatitis B virus, which can be passed through sexual contact (as well as other types of contact, such as during childbirth) and is associated with chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Immunization against HBV is required to enroll as a student at the University of California.   

If you’re not sure whether you’ve been vaccinated against HBV, a clinician can order a blood test called an HBV titer to help decide whether you should start the vaccine series or not.  

Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for all men who have sex with men, as well as several other higher-risk populations. The Hepatitis A vaccine effectively prevents the Hepatitis A virus, which can cause an acute infection of the liver resulting in fever, nausea, jaundice, abdominal pain, and, rarely, liver failure and death. 

Meningococcal vaccination is now being recommended for certain groups of men who have sex with men from New York City or Los Angeles County, in addition to current guidelines calling for immunization of all adolescents and first-year college students living in residence halls. 

Meningococcal infection is passed through inhalation or intimate contact with secretions from the mouth, nose, or throat. Early symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, and confusion, and can be fatal if untreated. 

Learn more:

Contraception and Emergency Contraception (EC) 

Contraception is a medical term for pregnancy prevention and is commonly referred to as birth control. Many sexually active college students do not intend to become pregnant. However, 85% of women will become pregnant within a year if they have penis-vagina sex without using any type of birth control method. Fortunately, there are a variety of hormonal and nonhormonal birth control methods available. Every method has advantages and disadvantages, and what the “best” method is will vary by person and situation.    

You should also consider keeping emergency contraception, or Plan B, on hand in case your Plan A method fails (e.g. you forgot a pill, were late inserting a NuvaRing or applying a patch, the condom broke, slipped, or was not used for whatever reason).  

Learn more:  

HIV Prevention: PEP and PrEP

PEP and PrEP are terms used to describe several ways in which people who are currently HIV-negative, and who are at higher risk for HIV infection, can use anti-HIV medication to prevent infection with the HIV virus. 

PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a term used to describe taking anti-HIV medication AFTER a specific high-risk exposure to HIV - for example, after engaging in anal sex without a condom (or if the condom slips or breaks) - with a partner who is HIV+, or whose HIV status is unknown. 

PEP must be initiated within 72 hours of high-risk exposure to be effective at preventing HIV. If you suspect that you have recently been exposed to HIV, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider (either a clinician here at UHS or a provider at a local emergency room or an outside clinic) about PEP as soon as possible.  

PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a term used to describe taking anti-HIV medication every day to prevent HIV infection, taken by HIV-negative persons who are at high risk of infection. Used together with other HIV risk reduction approaches, including consistent condom use, PrEP can significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection. 

PrEP 211 Fact Sheet

If you’re interested in learning more about whether PrEP might be right for you, please schedule an appointment with a UHS clinician.

Get Tested

While learning about healthy sexuality may start with learning the basics about sex and sexual health, it should also include getting informed about your status: by getting tested.

Half of all sexually active people will get an STI by the age of 25, and nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned. And even though many STIs are treatable (or even curable) if caught early on, most people with an STI don't have any symptoms at all, which means the infections can become more serious and can continue to spread to new partners.  

If you're having sex, a key part of staying healthy is to get yourself tested.  

How do I know if I should be tested for STIs and HIV? 

STI and HIV testing might be appropriate for several different reasons:

  • Are you currently experiencing symptoms that you’re worried might be related to an STI or HIV? 
    • If you’re experiencing any symptoms of concern – for example, discomfort with urination, penile or vaginal discharge, or swollen lymph nodes – STI and HIV testing can be ordered during a medical visit with a clinician, who can perform an exam and consider whether other testing (and treatment) might be appropriate as well.
    • Schedule a medical visit
  • Are you interested in routine testing, even though you’re not experiencing any symptoms?
    • Great! Regular STI and HIV testing are recommended as a critical part of overall sexual health care. Remember that many STIs can be present without any symptoms at all, which is why getting tested on a regular basis (and talking to your partners about whether and when they’ve been tested!) is so important.
    • Schedule a medical visit
    • Self-Directed STI Testing at UHS
  • Are you worried about a recent exposure (in the past week), like a broken condom, or have you recently been the victim of a sexual assault? 

Can I be tested for “everything?"

Many students ask about “the STI test,” assuming there is one test that covers all STIs. Not true! 

Since the term “sexually transmitted infections” actually refers to many individual types of infections, infection-specific tests are needed to detect each individual type of sexually transmitted infection. (In other words, a chlamydia test will not detect HIV, nor will a Pap test detect herpes.)

If you’re not sure which STIs you should consider getting tested for, you can ask to speak with one of our Advice Nurses or schedule a medical visit with a clinician to talk about your specific sexual history and risk factors, to decide which tests might be appropriate. 

There are also several online tools to help you determine which STI tests might be appropriate for you:

STI Testing at UHS

Current students can access STI testing at UHS in several different ways:

  • During a medical visit 
    • If you wish to discuss, or if your clinician feels testing for certain STIs might be appropriate depending on the reason for your visit, testing for most common STIs and HIV can be ordered at that time.
    • Schedule a medical visit
  • Rapid HIV testing
  • Self-directed STI testing
    • You can now request testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV for yourself - without a medical visit - through the eTang portal.
    • Self-directed testing does not test for all STIs, and may not be right for everyone, depending on your sexual practices.
    • Self-directed testing is meant for screening purposes only. If you’re experiencing symptoms that you’re worried might be due to a sexually transmitted infection, or if you think that you’ve recently been exposed to an STI, please call our Advice Nurse or schedule a medical visit.
    • More information about self-directed STI testing
  • Home HIV testing
    • Home HIV tests are now available at the UHS Pharmacy. Home HIV testing is meant for screening purposes only, and might not be appropriate for you and your sex practices - particularly if you’re concerned about a high-risk exposure in the past 3-6 months.
    •  More information about home HIV testing

Pregnancy Testing at UHS

Current students can currently access pregnancy testing at UHS in several different ways: 

  • During a medical visit
    • If you express concern about pregnancy risk during your medical appointment, or if your clinician feels pregnancy testing might be appropriate based on the reason for your visit, pregnancy testing (urine or blood) can be ordered at that time.
    • Schedule a medical visit
  • Self-directed pregnancy testing
  • Home pregnancy tests
    • Home urine pregnancy tests are currently available over-the-counter at the UHS Pharmacy, as well as most local pharmacies.
    • Remember! For most women, the pregnancy test will not become positive until approximately 2 weeks from the time of suspected conception.
    • More information about pregnancy testing
Learn more: Contraception and family planning services at UHS

Additional Resources

UHS has compiled the following list of resources related to sexuality and sexual health to assist students in finding additional information, services, and support.

On-Campus Resources

Off-Campus Resources

  • Berkeley Free Clinic: STI screening and treatment, HIV testing, pregnancy testing, and counseling services. 
  • Berkeley Public Health Clinic: STI screening, treatment, and prevention education.
  • Pacific Center: Social activities and support groups for bi, gay, lesbian, transgender, youth & questioning, as well as AIDS education, testing, and counseling (Berkeley).
  • Planned Parenthood: Birth control, STI screening and treatment, HIV testing, abortion services, pregnancy tests, gynecological exams, and more. (El Cerrito, Central Richmond, Hilltop-Richmond, San Francisco, Eastmont, Walnut Creek)
  • San Francisco City Clinic: HIV testing, women’s health (annual exams, contraception, family planning tools), and STD testing.
  • Society of Jamus: Education, socialization, and support for members of the BDSM and kink community.
  • The Trevor Project (866-488-7386) provides a free, 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline to LGBTQ youth.

Online Resources

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