FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Barriers to using barrier methods?

This blog is a guest blog from Ruth Abebe, a UNC graduate interested in HIV and sexual health, and was originally published on April 1, 2013.

College is a time when many students are discovering and exploring ourselves and the condomsworld around us. This world may include sexuality.

Many college students choose to be sexually active, and college-aged students are particularly likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and are disproportionately affected by negative sexual health outcomes such as STI or unintended pregnancy.  According to national surveys, many college students are engaging in sexual activity without protection. In a 2011 survey of undergraduate students across the US, approximately 70% of sexually active students reported using condoms inconsistently or not at all during sex in the last 30 days. With all the information out there regarding sexually transmitted infections (STI), unintended pregnancy and ways to prevent them, why do college students still put themselves at risk?

As a college student myself, I have heard several of my peers talk about why they don’t use condoms.  But, there are ways to go beyond these barriers and make sure sexual experiences are safe and pleasurable.

1. Cost — Most of us are on a budget, and the cost of safer sex supplies like condoms is still an obstacle for students when deciding to use protection. However, this is a problem that can be easily remedied. Here at UNC, we have access to free safer sex supplies. Condoms, both male and female, and dental dams, as well as lube, are available to us through UNC Student Wellness and at several residence halls around campus. Furthermore, with the introduction of Wellness’s free condom dispensers, cost will be even less of an issue (update: These condom dispensers are now in service! They are located around campus, including in the Union and the Rams Head Recreation Center, and are refilled frequently). Click here for more information on where you can currently access safer sex supplies throughout Campus Health Services.

2. Many consider only pregnancy risk—Some students only consider pregnancy as a possible consequence of unprotected sex. For this reason, many believe they will be able to protect themselves using prescription contraceptives (examples: the pill, patch, ring, IUD, etc.). However, STI risk and protection should be considered in every sexual partnership.  Aside from abstinence, condoms are the only method which can protect against both pregnancy and STIs, including HIV/AIDS. They can also be converted to a dental dam.

3. “Oral sex isn’t sex.” – Many are under the false impression that oral sex is “safe sex.” Oral sex, just like anal and vaginal sex, carries a risk for STI transmission.  Condoms and dental dams can protect against the risk of STI transmission during oral sex.

4. Pleasure Factor— Some college students don’t use condoms during sexual activity because they believe “it doesn’t feel the same.”  But you can do things to make sex with condoms feel just as good. Plus, knowing that you have the protection of a condom can help you to relax and enjoy the moment.  There are several kinds of condoms out there, including “ultra-sensitive” condoms that enhance the feeling of both parties during sex. Using lube can also make sex more pleasurable for both partners. In addition, there are condoms and other safer sex supplies geared toward making sex more pleasurable. Explore different condom styles and protect yourself!

5. “It’ll ruin the moment.” – Some college students are not protecting themselves for fear of ruining the mood of the moment. There are ways around this too. If you are having sex with someone, you can talk about condom use beforehand. Of course, I realize that not all sexual activity will be between two people in either a romantic or ongoing sexual relationship. In these cases, it’s important to place your sexual health above any potential awkwardness. Cases of STIs are on the rise, and aside from the dangers to your health, having an STI can make your sex life more difficult in the future. So, why not protect and enjoy yourself?

Despite these barriers, there are several ways to allay your fears and hesitations about using protection. As college students, preventing against STIs and pregnancy by using condoms is essential to protecting our sexual health.

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: NEW! Fitness Passport with UNC Campus Recreation

by: Ben Smart

When you want to learn more about the world, you use your travel passport to experience new places. When you want to get a leg up on your fitness goals, you use your Fitness Passport!

Stop by the Student Rec Center front desk in SRC 101 to pick up your passport, free of charge, beginning March 16th. Complete the following six fitness challenges by April 24th to get a Campus Rec swag bag!


  • EVENT: Function Movement Screening
    -Visit the Functional Movement and Fitness Center (FMFC) in the SRC, where a fitness consultant will perform a functional movement screening for you. Find more info about the FMFC and screeningshere.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Like the Tar Heel Wellness Challenge and UNC Campus Rec on Facebook
    – The Tar Heel Wellness Challenge provides holistic health goals for UNC students, faculty and staff to reach every two weeks via Facebook.
    – Stay up to date with all Campus Rec has to offer and interact with us via Facebook!
  • EVENT: Try out our Weekend Warrior Series or Yoga Workshops
    -These series offer unique ways to further your fitness practices!
    -More information about these offerings can be found here.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Post a positive affirmation on social media using #UNCbodybeautiful
    – Accepting and loving your body for the things it can do for you is one of the first steps toward a happier and healthier life!
  • EVENT: Join the fun and take a group fitness class
    – Campus Rec offers over 80 classes, in a variety of formats, per week FOR FREE.
    – Check out the full schedule here and try something new now!
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Bring your workout home with Training Time
    – Complete one of our Training Time series workouts on the Campus Rec YouTube channel.
    – Take a picture or video of your workout and post on Instagram with #UNCtrainingtime.


For each event challenge you complete, have the Fitness staff member at the event location stamp your passport card. For the social media challenges, show any Fitness staff member at any time your completed challenge to get your passport stamped. Fitness staff includes group fitness instructors, personal trainers, and FMFC fitness consultants. For FMFC hours during which you can connect with a consultant, click here.
Once you complete the full challenge, bring your stamped Fitness Passport to the Campus Rec Main Office (SRC 101) no later than April 24th to pick up your Campus Rec swag bag!
Spring break may be finished, but that’s no excuse to forget about your health and fitness. Take advantage of your Fitness Passport to jumpstart your spring fitness!


Power Poses to Challenge Self-Doubt

I’ve heard it called Impostor Phenomenon or sometimes Impostor Syndrome, but it tends to announce itself more like…”OH MY GAH, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING DO YOU?! SOMEONE ELSE WOULD HAVE KNOWN EXACTLY WHAT TO DO AND WOULD HAVE DONE THIS WAAAAAY BETTER. THEY’RE GONNA KNOW! THEY’RE ALL GONNA KNOW!” …At least that’s how it shows up in my head.

But whatever you call it, false feelings of not-good-enoughness are pretty common. Google it. Some researchers estimate that as many as 70% of people feel this way at some point in their lives. And while it can happen to anyone, researchers find this phenomenon especially common in women, people of ethnic and racial minorities, and anyone who’s trying something new or who feels different from the people around them.

Common or not, these automatic thoughts of impostordom can stall or stunt a person’s progress in life in major ways. And fears of having one’s “shortcomings” “found out” can keep folks from reaching out and connecting with others who could help.

There are a lot of theories out there about where this comes from and lots of advice for what to do about it, but I happened upon a TED talk the other day that gives scientific evidence to something I’ve learned doing theater.

ITC ensemble members using Image Theater techniques.

ITC ensemble members using Image Theater techniques.

With Interactive Theatre Carolina, we use a range of theatrical tools to help folks better understand themselves and discuss the world we live in. One technique we use is Forum Theatre—sometimes called a “rehearsal for real life,” which seeks to empower regular folks to make courageous and healthy choices by practicing changing the outcomes of problematic scenarios. Another technique we use is called Image Theatre, in which participants strike poses and audience members discuss and analyze the stories and associations the body postures convey. A “picture’s worth a thousand words,” right?

This TED talk references a study in which Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and researcher at Harvard Business School, reports findings that support that rehearsing for real life…is also real life. She finds that changing our body language not only influences the messages we send to others but also the messages we send to ourselves at the chemical level.

In short, striking powerful poses (poses that open the body and take up space) alters hormone levels—increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol (a stress hormone)—which results in a person actually feeling more powerful. The opposite happens, as you might imagine, when a person strikes a low-power pose (body closed off and made small). These changes are measurable and almost instant; Cuddy’s subjects only held the poses for 2 minutes.

Will striking a power pose and altering my brain chemistry suddenly make me capable of being the next president? Highly unlikely. But could striking a power pose for a few minutes before leading a presentation help me interrupt some negative self-talk that might otherwise hold me back? Probably.

Check out some of the articles embedded and below for other strategies to get past fears of being an impostor in your own life. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stand like a starfish for the next 2 minutes and have a brave afternoon.

To Post or Not to Post?: Social Media Literacy

(By: Chris Smith, social-media1_ME Flickr: Creative Commons)

(By: Chris Smith, social-media1_ME Flickr: Creative Commons)

Scrolling down social media timelines has become an everyday ritual for most. From photos on Pinterest to posts from friends on Facebook, using social media has become a common way to share our ideas and viewpoints on various topics of interest. However, along with reading life updates from your long distance buddies online, often comes unintended emotional reactions to posts that you see online. Ever find yourself engaging in making body comparisons to a friend or celebrity’s selfie on Instagram, or become so agitated from a Twitter comment that you engage in a back-and-forth only to find yourself even more upset than you were before you read it? These reactions can come with using social media platforms. People are entitled to their opinions and use their social media pages to express them, often– if unintentionally– offending others. Let’s be honest, when’s the last time you seriously critically considered how people would react to your posts? However, it is important to remember that your posts could affect others negatively or positively without your knowledge or intention.

Before the rise of social media, most of us were primarily consumers of commercial and entertainment media, being constantly bombarded by powerful images in magazines, television, and marketing ads. In these cases, media literacy has been successfully used to address and prevent the negative impact that media can have on body image and general sense of self. Becoming media literate is cultivating an ability to critically analyze media and understand how it affects how we think, feel, and behave.

Now we are no longer mere consumers of media — we are also frequent producers of media through social media platforms. With this in mind, it is important to uphold this same critical eye to our own social media platforms and be mindful of how they could be affecting us and others.

Here are a few questions to keep in mind when critically analyzing how social media posts impact us:

  • What is the underlying message of the post?
  • Do I like/agree with the post?
  • How is it affecting me emotionally?

Here are a few questions to keep in mind when critically analyzing how our personal social media posts impact others:

  •  What point am I trying to get across with this post?
  • Does my post acknowledge my perspective without putting others down?

Critically analyzing social media posts doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to un-friend or un-follow users because you don’t agree with their messages. Media literacy is aimed at developing your critical thinking skills and empowering you to view media outlets on your own terms. Becoming a critical consumer of social media allows you to effectively foster your social wellness while protecting your emotional wellness.

If you’re interested in learning more about media literacy, be sure to check out Student Wellness’s upcoming workshop, Critical Consumption: Media Literacy and Body Image on Wednesday, March 25th from 4-5:30pm, Room 3411, Union.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY — Practical Lessons from Theatre: Creative Ways to Deal with Stress

This blog post was originally published on April 16, 2013 and was written by Sarah Donnell.

Folks in theatre know a thing or two about stress and stress relief–it’s our primary excuse for playing all of those silly games. Since there is a lot of tension inherent in meeting multiple deadlines, collaborating with a team, and performing in front of people, a lot of theatre training involves cultivating awareness and practicing relaxation. Academic atmospheres hold similar tensions—especially at this time of year. What are your strategies for moderating the physical and emotional effects of stress?

Colorful CrayonsIn Interactive Theatre Carolina’s scene on stress management (Coloring for the Chronically Stressed by student ensemble member, Noel Thompson), an overburdened protagonist meets a fellow student in Davis Library late one night and flips out when he realizes his new friend is coloring.

Victor: NO! This is an important point! Why are you coloring?

Sunny: (Sighs) Ok, if you really want to know. You know how when some people need to unwind, they run? Or some people do drugs, some people play music, some people get as far away from the library as possible? I don’t adhere to that structure. As some form of cosmic middle finger to the universe, I come to Davis, the place where I do all my work, and I do the least productive thing I can think of.

Victor: So you come here, and you…color?

Okay, but really: have you tried this lately? Coloring is way better than you probably remember. Furthermore, there have been numerous studies showing the benefits of music, expressive writing, and art for mental and physical health. Engaging in these activities has been shown to lower heart rate and boost the immune system. Also…they’re fun.

Maybe you don’t consider yourself an artistic person. It doesn’t matter. When you’ve been toiling in a performance-driven academic environment, part of the beauty of taking on a creative endeavor is that it can be valid and helpful no matter the “quality” of the product.

If you’re someone who already engages in a creative pursuit, consider switching mediums. It can be liberating to get back to a beginner’s mind where the stakes are low and your identity isn’t tied up in the work.

So sometime in the coming weeks, take a break, find some crayons, and color. Or sing, and sing off-key. Finger paint. Invent a game. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a collage. Try to draw a portrait of your cat or a representation of your brain. Pull out that old Casio keyboard and make up a tune.

Here are some links that might help get you started: http://journalingprompts.com/ http://www.happyhealthyher.com/mind-spirit/art-therapy/

Allowing your brain some variety and opportunity for expressive outlet shouldn’t be considered a waste of time—it’s an important, healthy release. If you need a little more convincing, check out this study: http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/11/5/338.full

Of course, we recognize that crayons aren’t a cure-all.  If your stress or anxiety levels escalate, you can always find support at Counseling and Psychological Services


Allergies, Allergies

Itchy, watery eyes?  Sneezing? Congestion?

TV ads will diagnose you and tell you how to treat yourself so that you can romp through a field of flowers after taking their product.

Seasonal allergies  affect more people in the springtime due to tree pollen, but allergies can happen every season.  Fall is ragweed season and until the first hard frost, some people are experiencing allergy symptoms. Some folks have year round allergies and could have an allergy to dust mites, molds, or pet dander.  Causes of non seasonal allergies can include food, insect venom, chemicals, and medication.

The relationship between allergies and your immune system

Our immune system is a wonderfully complex set of processes that protects us against bacteria, viruses and fungus – the things that get us sick.

Allergies occur when our immune system reacts to an innocuous substance such as pollen as though it was a pathogen, thus causing an inflammatory response.

Why does this happen? It is not completely understood why some people develop allergies but the answer probably lies  in your genes.  Your own risk of developing allergies is related to your parents’ allergy history. If neither parent is allergic, the chance that you will have allergies is about 15%. If one parent is allergic, your risk increases to 30% and if both are allergic, your risk is greater than 60%. The allergic response develops after repeated exposure to a substance so you may indeed develop an allergy to something you had no problem with in the past.

The allergic response is mediated by several chemicals released by your body including histamine, leukotrienes and cytokines.  These substances cause itching (histamine) and tissue swelling which leads to that nasal congestion and, when the inside of the breathing tubes are swollen, asthma.

Helpful Medications

  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine, loratadine, cetirizine or fexofenadine are some of the over the counter medications commonly used to combat allergies. These medications are particularly helpful if the predominant symptom is itching. Antihistamines often have to be used with other drugs that block the effects of the other chemical mediators in the allergic response.
  • Prescription leukotriene inhibitors such as montelukast can be used.
  • Nasal steroids are often used for congestive nasal symptoms.
  • Inhaled steroids are often used in persistent asthma symptoms.
  • Oral steroids are occasionally used for severe reactions.
  • If you have an especially severe reaction, your provider may prescribe you an injectable form of epinephrine to use in the case of an emergency  so that you can then seek medical attention.

The best allergy treatment is avoidance  of whatever you are allergic to.  Educate yourself about your allergies. Learn to recognize the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction and when to seek immediate medical attention.  Be proactive about taking over the counter and prescription medication early to keep your allergy symptoms under control.  If you have severe and persistent allergies, you may need to see an allergist and may need allergy shots.

Fear not – allergies can be managed and new medications are being developed all the time. Visit the allergy clinic at Campus Health to learn more.

What to Expect From Your First Gynecologist Appointment


Dentist by Lee Mack (flickr creative commons)

For many people, seeing a gynecologist for the first time can be a nerve-wracking and scary experience. However, it doesn’t have to be—the more informed you are, the less scary it is. Knowing what to expect means you can advocate for yourself and be an informed patient. So why see a gynecologist, you may ask? Perhaps you are thinking about having sex and want to discuss contraception or you want to talk about pain during sex. Maybe you have an infection and want to get it checked out or your periods are irregular and you want more information. As you can see, there are so many reasons people go to the gynecologist! You don’t have to be sexually active to see a gynecologist, either. The most recent recommendation is that people see a gynecologist for a first pap smear at 21 and every three years after. Here are some things to know ahead of time:

  • Schedule an exam during a time when you are not menstruating
  • You can request a provider of the same gender if you want
  • It can be helpful to write questions down ahead of time in case you forget anything
  • When you get there you will fill out some forms answering questions about if you are sexually active, the date of your last period, and what brings you to the appointment
  • Wear comfortable clothing because you may have to remove them (including underwear) to change into a gown

Once you get there, you will have a conversation with a healthcare provider about why are you there and about your sexual history. Being honest is important and this information helps inform the provider about what kind of care you need. Their job is to provide care, not judge you. While people don’t always talk openly about gynecological health, your doctor has heard every question out there and seen many patients for gynecological exams. Nothing is too embarrassing or uncomfortable. Remember, it’s their job and they see patients with similar concerns all the time! If you have experienced trauma, this can be a time to tell the doctor that you might be nervous and discuss strategies for getting through an exam (here is an article with some tips to help you through the appointment).

Depending on why you are there, here are some things that could occur:

  • The provider performing a breast exam
  • The provider having you lie you down and put your feet in stirrups to examine the external genital area
  • The provider using a speculum, an instrument that allows for the provider to view inside the vagina and see the cervix, to perform the internal exam
  • The provider taking a swab of your cervix
  • The provider inserting a gloved finger into the vagina while feeling your abdomen—this is to examine your internal organs that they can’t examine with the speculum (the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes)

Throughout all this, nothing should hurt. You may feel some discomfort and pressure, and if you are feeling pain you should tell your provider. While it can be difficult, the more relaxed you are the more comfortable the exam will be. Taking deep breaths can help you try to relax. While it sounds like a lot, this part of the exam only takes a few minutes and will be over before you know it. Sometimes people like to know what is going on, have a conversation with the provider, or not talk at all. It’s up to you! It’s also totally fine to ask the provider to talk you through what they are doing.

Also, remember to speak up–you have the right to ask for explanations or stop any part of the exam at any point. It’s your body and you have the right to advocate for yourself! If you have questions, you can email Student Wellness at LetsTalkAboutIt@unc.edu to set up a sexual health appointment with our trained health educators. We are here to help make you feel as informed as possible when you seen a gynecologist for the first time!