2 young students after sex

Sexual health tips for students in 2016

Posted on by Dr Tony Steele Posted in Sexual Health

University is a time to get to know yourself – to live on your own, absorb knowledge, experience new things, make new friends – and possibly sleep with them. But how can you ensure you’re looking after yourself even while having an active sex life?

The following tips will help you fully understand the implications of being sexually active and how to stay safe physically and emotionally.

If you need quick assistance or advice, visit your Student Health Centre or use the NHS’ Sexual Health Information and Support finder to locate the closest services to you.

Sexually transmitted infections

Aside from being embarrassing and uncomfortable, STIs can have lasting effects. Many students are surprised to learn that some that do not have noticeable symptoms can cause long-term health issues and even infertility.

So which is the most common? Chlamydia tops the list in the UK, and half of men and three quarters of women who have it exhibit no symptoms. Left untreated it can cause women to become infertile. It can be treated with antibiotics, or avoided, like most STIs, by using a condom. You can read more about chlamydia symptoms, tests and treatment here.

Other common STIs include gonorrhoea, genital warts and genital herpes. Though HIV infection is less common, it does occur in young people.

Find out about STI symptoms that need checking, preferably before you become sexually active. Pain when you pee, itching, burning, blisters, sores and more all warrant a visit to a doctor for testing.

Avoiding STIs

Condoms continue to be the most effective way to prevent most STIs. Male and female students who choose to have sex should learn how to use male and female condoms correctly. Choose condoms with the BSI (British Standards Institution) Kitemark or European CE symbol to ensure quality.

Condoms can be obtained from:

  • Contraception or family planning clinics
  • Genitourinary (GUM) clinics
  • Certain GP surgeries
  • Supermarkets
  • Shops
  • Pharmacies
  • Vending Machines

Along with practising safe sex each and every time, students should also go for regular sexual health checkups, whether in the early stages of a new monogamous relationships or if having sex with multiple partners. This not only helps ensure you haven’t picked anything up, but puts you in touch with a medical professional to help assess your risk of STIs at any given time.


Another risk to sexually active students is unplanned pregnancy. There isn’t a safe time during a woman’s cycle in which to have sex and avoid pregnancy (not even during menstruation), as sperm can live for seven days. Pregnancy can be avoided by using contraception, which attempts to prevent pregnancy by stopping egg production in women, keeping the sperm and egg apart, or stopping an already fertilised egg from attaching to the lining of the womb.

Choosing contraception

There are various forms of contraception – 15 in total are listed by the NHS. They range from contraceptive pills to permanent female and male sterilisation. The one you choose will depend on your preference and your doctor’s advice. Both men and women should consider it their responsibility to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and develop an understanding of how each form of contraception works. Click on the above link to find out more about each one.

Students can obtain contraception from:

  • GPs (or a pharmacy with a prescription from a GP)
  • Sexual health clinics
  • Brook advisory centres (if under 25)
  • Community contraceptive clinics
  • Some GUM clinics

Emergency Contraception

If you have had unprotected sex or are worried that your contraceptive method may have failed, it is important to act quickly. Two forms of emergency contraception are available to reduce the possibility of pregnancy: the Morning After Pill or IUD.

There are two kinds of Morning After Pill – Levonelle, which must be taken within three days of unprotected sex, and ellaOne, which can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. Each prevents or delays the release of the fertilised egg (ovulation).

Emergency contraception pills are available free of charge at the locations listed above and from some A&E units. Levonelle is also available from most pharmacies. Some women also choose to order the Morning After Pill from an online pharmacy to reserve as standby treatment.

The other option is the insertion of an IUD, or intrauterine device, which is used to prevent an egg from being fertilised or implanting in the uterus. Most GP surgeries and contraceptive clinics will be able to fit an emergency IUD, which will also provide ongoing protection from pregnancy.

Keep in mind that neither form of emergency contraception protects against STIs.

Sexual consent

The issue of consent is a big one for students, and when there is alcohol or drugs involved the lines can quickly become blurred. It’s important to ensure both partners are 100% willing, every step of the way.

UK law states that consent can only be given when the person is free and able to make a conscious choice to have sex. There are many situations in which a person is unable to consent to sex, including being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, if they are asleep, or if they have a mental health condition or a medical health issue. Abuse and issues of power or trust can also impede a person’s ability to give proper consent.

Consent can also be withdrawn at any point during the interlude, ie. a person can agree to a certain type of sexual activity but say no to another, and it can be withdrawn on different occasions, meaning that just because a person has consented to sex once does not mean they are obligated to agree to have sex again in the future.

Students should keep in mind that dressing a certain way, or being more friendly due to alcohol or drugs doesn’t mean a person wants sex. Having sex without full consent is sexual assault, which is a crime. If you think you have been a victim of sexual assault, click here to find resources for support, or visit your Student Health Centre immediately.

Emotional implications of sex

Whether you are thinking about having sex, have already had sex once, or are continuously having sex, you may feel confused or unsure about your decisions. The notion of sex can bring about strong emotions, as well as issues of peer pressure, accepted norms and expectations.

There are certain questions to ask yourself regarding your sexual activity, such as, will I (or do I) regret this? Do I love my partner, or see the relationship progressing past sex? Do we both have the same expectations?

These issues and many others can arise, and it’s important to ensure you pay attention to any uncomfortable emotions that you may have. Learn more about whether you’re ready for sex, or reach out to a counsellor to help you address your feelings.

Use these tips to help you enjoy a happy, healthy sex life at Uni, or simply to be aware of the implications of having sex whether you choose to engage or not.