By Dr. Vanessa Cullins
Going off to college this fall? You know the drill — laptop, bank account, mini fridge, laundry machine quarters, new jeans. But do you know the sex checklist? Whether or not you’ve had sex before, you need to be prepared so that you’re not caught with your pants down.
Here are the top five things every college student should know about sex:
1. Get yourself tested
If you’re sexually active, you need to get tested at least once a year for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. After all, you can’t tell by looking who has an STD. And many STDs cause no symptoms, so the only way to know your status for sure is to get tested.
This is not something you can just put off: STDs disproportionately affect young people. In fact, half of the estimated 20 million sexually transmitted diseases each year occur in people under 25, although they represent only 25 percent of the sexually active population. If not treated, STDs can lead to serious health outcomes, like chronic pain, increased risk of certain cancers, and infertility.
Remember, HIV is also an STD — and young people account for the largest percentage of new HIV infections in the U.S. each year. The rate of new HIV infections for African Americans and Latinos is much higher than the rate for Caucasians — but everyone needs to get tested and practice safer sex.
Other than abstinence, condoms and dental dams are the best protection against STDs. Even when you use a condom, which you definitely must during intercourse, you’re not 100 percent safe, because some STDs can be passed from skin to skin contact. If you’re unsure if you should get tested, take this quick quiz to find out.
2. Don't want children for a while? There's birth control for that
Did you know there’s a form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy for three, five, even 10 years — with no pills or shots? It’s called the IUD (intrauterine device), and it’s 99 percent effective. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, what once had an expensive upfront price tag is now affordable or free because many health insurance plans should cover most of the expense. Once it’s inserted, there are no additional costs until you decide to remove it.
So how does it work? Your doctor inserts a small, flexible-plastic or copper T-shaped device in your uterus, and that’s it! It prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones or, if you prefer a non-hormonal option, you can choose a copper device. In both cases, the IUD keeps the sperm from joining with the egg. Take this quiz to help guide you to the best form of birth control for your goals.
3. Birth control and condoms shouldn't be one or the other. You need both
Even if you use birth control, you also need a condom — because condoms alone help reduce the risk of STDs and HIV. Male condoms are more effective than female condoms. “Dual use” — using both a condom and a form of birth control together — is the best way to stay safe.
4. Get the HPV vaccine
Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Each year 14 million people become newly infected with HPV. In fact, nearly all sexually active people will contract a form of HPV at some point in their lives.
HPV causes more than 20,000 cases of cancer in women each year and about 12,000 cases of cancer in men.
However, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, thanks to the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screening with Pap tests. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, and you’re under 26, it’s not too late. Talk to health care professional to find out if you’re a good candidate for the vaccine.
5. Try mutual masturbation! (Seriously.)
For many of us, masturbation is a taboo topic, and myths about masturbation can cause feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. But let’s get the facts straight: Masturbation is a natural and common activity for both men and women.
Although masturbation is usually thought of as a solo act, many people also enjoy mutual masturbation — when partners masturbate in one another’s presence. It’s a safe way to explore sexual activity with another person without risk of pregnancy or risk of STD, as long as you don’t share sex toys without washing them first. As a bonus, mutual masturbation is an excellent way for partners to show each other what kind of touch they enjoy.
Enjoy this year of college and most of all remember to take care of yourself!
Planned Parenthood is here as a nonjudgmental, quality resource for young women and men to help them cover their health care needs or receive information. If you are searching for a health care provider, you can visit PlannedParenthood.org to find the closest health center to you.