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 world 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.