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 own definition of what healthy sexuality means to you.
Am I ready? Decision making and partner communication
Communication with your partner (or partners) is a critical part of healthy sexuality. Open communication – knowing how to talk, and feeling comfortable talking – with partners about everything from previous partners and STI testing to condoms and personal boundaries and preferences can help make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to preventing unintended pregnancy, STIs, and HIV. Of course, honest and open communication about sensitive topics like sex and STIs can be challenging.
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
- 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 ok? 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- Consent can be withdrawn at any point in the sexual encounter.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
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 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.”
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)
- Hepatitis A, B, and C - Learn the Differences
- Hepatitis A
- Molluscum Contagiosum
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 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.
Despite the fact that planned pregnancies lead to healthier moms and babies, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Approximately 85% of women who are sexually active with men will become pregnant in 1 year without using a 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 women and their partners to make informed decisions about their reproductive lives.
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 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer 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
- Do YOU! A resource designed to meet you at the crossroads of decisions you may be at regarding sex, alcohol, and relationships.
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 the 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 function, consider whether stress, poor sleep, anxiety, or other factors may be the culprit.