We’re thrilled to have sex and relationship expert Logan Levkoff, Ph.D. offering her wisdom to the Nurx community. Here she tackles the topic of back-to-school essentials for sexually active college students.
College can be an exciting time of personal growth, new friendships, intellectual expansion of your mind, oh, and . . . sex! Yeah, many college students will find themselves acting on sexual feelings and desires, either for the first time, or at least with a whole lot more freedom than they had in high school.
It’s completely natural and normal that the combo of college socializing and freedom from parental oversight might make sexual exploration one of your favorite extracurricular activities. But there are a few things I’m going to need you to do before the school year gets under way, okay?
While you’re kicking off the semester by buying textbooks and getting your dorm room organized, you should stock your sexual health toolkit, too. This conceptual “toolkit” is simply all of the products and tools that you might use to engage in safer sex, and I’m going to spell them out for you below. You will make lots of decisions about sex as you embark on this journey, but preparedness is key. The idea of “always being prepared” for sex may seem funny, or it may seem a bit presumptuous if you’re not in an ongoing relationship. I’ve never really seen it that way. Having sexual health tools at the ready is simply a sign of responsibility, because grown people are entitled to make their own decisions about their bodies and smart people know that good sex is pleasurable, consensual, and protected.
What should be in your sexual health toolkit? That depends on your body and what you do with it, but I’m going to list the essentials here. I’m also going to do some 101 explanation, because depending on the quality your sex education, you may not have received all the facts the first time.
Condoms, including both external (formerly called “male”) and internal (formerly called “female”) varieties, are the only product that offers both contraception and protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and can be used by all bodies, and for all types of sex: vaginal, anal, and oral. If you and a partner are using toys or sexual enhancements, condoms can be used on them, too, for complete STI protection. Condoms can be made out of latex or non-latex materials (i.e. polyurethane and polyisoprene) if you happen to have a latex allergy. These condoms are incredibly effective protection against bacteria and viruses and also provide a barrier to prevent sperm from getting into a partner’s body. (A note: natural membrane condoms – sometimes called “lambskin” – do not offer STI protection and aren’t a good option.)
While oral sex is often seen as “safer” than vaginal or anal, you should know that it is possible to contract STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea in the throat from giving oral sex, and catch one in your genitals from receiving it. You can use condoms when a penis is involved, but the best protection for oral sex involving a vagina or anus is dental dams, squares of latex or polyurethane that you place over the vulva or the anus. Tip: If you can’t find dental dams, you can make one from flavored or non-lubricated condoms (just cut off the tip and then down the side).
By the way, no matter how careful you are, as long as you’re sexually active you should get tested for STIs at least once a year. And if your sex life puts you at risk for getting HIV you should take PrEP, the daily pill that helps HIV negative people stay HIV negative.
Condoms prevent pregnancy in addition to offering STI protection, but if you are able to become pregnant, you might want to use birth control in addition to condoms as another line of defense.
You can learn about the effectiveness of each birth control method, but the best one for you depends on your body and your lifestyle. Are you the type of person who remembers to take a pill daily? There are many affordable birth control pill formulas to choose from, including some that are FDA-approved to reduce acne or lessen PMS. If remembering a pill in the middle of mid-terms will be too much for you, consider the patch, ring, shot, or even a long-term birth control option like an IUD, which a doctor inserts into your cervix and can stay in there for 5-10 years, offering pretty much guaranteed pregnancy prevention straight through college and even grad school.
Just remember that, aside from condoms, methods designed to prevent sperm and egg from meeting do not offer any protection from sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, herpes, and HIV.
Some people see lube as an “extra,” but I see it as pretty much essential. Not only does it increase pleasure, but it can assist in STI protection by preventing small tears in the walls of the vagina and anus that commonly occur during sex. These abrasions (if sex is unprotected or dry) can leave you more susceptible to contracting an STI. But placing lube directly on the genitals or anus or adding it to condoms, makes sex slippery and prevents irritation from friction. If you are using condoms just be certain your lube is water or silicone-based, and not oil-based, because oil can degrade the condom.
Look, if you know me (or if you are a great intuitive thinker), you’ll probably guess that I think that using both a contraceptive as well as a condom is great sexual practice if pregnancy is a possibility. In the sexual health business we call this: “dual use.” And in a perfect world, partners use contraception and protection for every sexual experience. However, I know that not everyone does this, but without making you feel badly (because who am I to judge?), you should know that if you have unprotected vaginal intercourse or if your contraceptive fails or isn’t used correctly, emergency contraception is available to you.
EC is designed to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but Plan B can be effective up to 72 hours after sex, and Ella may still prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after sex. It works primarily by preventing ovulation but doesn’t terminate a pregnancy if you are already pregnant. Because timing is important, it is best to have emergency contraception on hand, in your sexual health toolkit (it’s back!) just in case. You can access both Ella and Plan B through Nurx, which will prescribe it online, bill your insurance if you have it, and ship it to you for free. Plan B and its generic versions don’t require a prescription, so you can also pick it up at the drugstore or order from Amazon if you are paying out-of-pocket. Ella does require a prescription, which the Nurx medical team can write for you.
EC is completely safe, but because it contains a high concentration of hormones, it isn’t supposed to be used as regular birth control. Besides, if you frequently have unprotected sex, you should probably deal with that sooner, rather than later.
The Bottom Line about College Sex
Your sexual experiences in college should be pleasurable, consensual, and protected. When you have the facts, the resources, and yes, the “toolkit” to have to make smart sex decisions you not only protect your health, but you free yourself up to fully savor all of the human connection, self-discovery, and pure pleasure that a healthy sex life offers.
About the Author
An internationally recognized expert on sexuality and relationships, Dr. Logan Levkoff is an author and educator dedicated to perpetuating healthy and positive messages about sexuality and relationships and encouraging honest conversation about sexuality and the role it plays in our culture. As a thought leader in the field of human sexuality and personal relationships, Logan frequently appears on television including Good Morning America, The Today Show, and CNN. Logan is an AASECT Certified Sex Educator and Sex Educator Supervisor and served on the AASECT Board of Directors. She received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Life Education from New York University and holds an M.S. in Human Sexuality Education.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.