By Melissa Johnson ‘18
Valentine’s Day is around the corner and love is in the air. And if love isn’t, hormones definitely are. It’s no secret that college is the time most of us assert our independence and start exploring intimate relationships. In fact, for many students, these college years is their first time becoming sexually active. However, most of us aren’t equipped with adequate sexual health and safety knowledge which may lead to poor health choices or increased risky sexual behavior.
This guide was created to remove some of the mystery and myths about sexual health, provide appropriate resources—on and off campus—and make sure students stay healthy and happy in college and beyond.
Sure, using a contraceptive sounds like common sense, but most college students are unaware of their birth control options outside of the male condom, “the pill,” and withdrawal or “pulling out.” There are lots of other ways to prevent pregnancy including the female condom, diaphragms, intrauterine devices, patches, and vaginal rings. The first step to having happy and healthy sexual relationships is finding out which form of birth control works for you.
While birth control is a great way to prevent pregnancy, keep in mind that most forms of birth control don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STI/Ds), including HIV. If you’re sexually active, you should get tested for STI/Ds at least once a year. Research shows that STI/Ds disproportionately affect young people. In fact, half of the estimated 20 million sexually transmitted infections/diseases each year occur in people under 25 years old.
Myths about STI/STDs
Myth 1: You can’t get STI/D from oral sex.
Though not all STI/Ds 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/D.
Not necessarily. Since many infections do not cause a single symptom, your partner might not have any clue they have an STI/D either.
Myth 3: STI/Ds are only a problem for those with lots of sexual 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 STI/D and who does not. Even partners in long term relationships may pass on an infection they didn’t know about.
Myth 4: The withdrawal method is good protection against STI/Ds.
The withdrawal method isn’t good protection against anything, including STI/Ds, pregnancy or HIV. It simply doesn’t work.
So you’re sexually active, and you want to be tested. Where can you go? Lucky for us, Hiram College provides free STI/D testing at the Julia Health Center all year round. The Health Center is open Monday-Friday from 8:30am-5:00pm. You can make an appointment easily by calling 330.569.5418. Most importantly, health center encounters are treated with confidentiality.
If you’re not comfortable getting tested on campus, the following nearby facilities also offer STI/D testing, though they may require a fee.
- Portage County Health Department – 330.296.9919
- Townhall II – 330.678.3006
- Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio (Kent) – 330.678.8011
From the Expert: Victoria M. Beltran, MPH, CHES discusses college student sexual health
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.”