Practicing Safer Sex at College: going to live at college opens up a wide new world of freedoms. As you start of your college career, you discover that you have some choices to make about things that never came up at home. Will you choose to skip classes? Do you want to start staying up until three or four in the morning? Will you play music that your parents would never have let you listen to in their house? It’s all up to you. Eventually, most new students find a balance between their newfound freedom, and responsibilities to their academics, their dormmates, and themselves. Striking this balance is a sign of maturity, and shows that you can handle living independently.
Most of these changes are things that you will adjust to gradually, often by making mistakes and learning from them in a trial-and-error process. This is normal and natural, and you shouldn’t be afraid of making those mistakes. However, there are some issues where a mistake can really effect you negatively in the long term – issues like sexuality. When it comes to sexual safety and comfort, you probably don’t want to learn everything by trial and error. As much as possible, you want to get to know yourself and your boundaries, protect yourself, and be prepared from the start.
Sex isn’t bad, of course, but only you can know when the right person and right time come along – whether that means a stranger on the first date or someone you’ve been seeing for a long time. If you are living at college, chances are that you will be presented with sexual opportunities, and it will be up to you to determine when, if at all, is the right time.
Sexual encounters can lead to feelings of happiness, bliss, arousal, connection, as well as shame, guilt, and regret. Sex in and of itself is not good or bad. It is all about context. The key to engaging in safer sex is to 1) know yourself 2) know the risks 3) develop realistic expectations and 4) communicate your needs/expectations with your partner.
It’s important to remember when talking about sexuality that it means more than just “doing it” or not. Sexual encounters aren’t just those that involve penile-vaginal intercourse – they include any activity of a sexual nature, such as anal sex, oral sex, mutual masturbation, even heavy petting and kissing. All these activities can have deep emotional connections and physical consequences. There are a wide range of sexual behaviors on any college campus, and chances are good that you’ll run into a few that you haven’t done before, and perhaps even a few you’ve never heard of. Don’t put yourself at risk by thinking you don’t have to worry about anything except intercourse, and that you can do anything and still be safe as long as it isn’t penile-vaginal penetration. Being sexually safe means having safe mutually rewarding sexual contact, no matter what it is you’re doing.
There are several things that you can do to protect yourself sexually, and they involve much more than just using a condom. Human beings are very sexual by nature, meaning that when we have a sexual experience we don’t just engage ourselves physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is important to consider all these parts as a whole when dealing with sexuality. Sexual safety means taking care of every part of yourself, not just the physical. Remember that your first obligation is always, always to yourself and your well-being, no matter what anybody else says or wants. By using the tips below, you can experience a happy, healthy sexuality without putting yourself at risk.
Know Your Boundaries - a safer sex skill
It’s very hard to decide what your boundaries are when a cute guy is putting the moves on you– obviously, at that point your body is trying to make more decisions than your brain! You can avoid being in this position by settling you boundaries ahead of time, when you have them opportunity to think rationally about them. Know how far you are willing to go, under what conditions, what you are and aren’t comfortable doing, and rehearse them to yourself. It’s much easier to avoid doing something you’ll regret when you don’t have to make your choice during an emotionally intense moment. Also, if you’ve given your boundaries plenty of thought and rehearsed them to yourself, it will be much easier to stick to them in the face of pressure. Instead of facing a completely new situation, you will have already considered it and know your answer.
Listen to Yourself - a safer sex skill
It can be all too easy for that little voice in your head to be overwhelmed in the heat of the moment, but you need to train yourself to listen to it. If you aren’t comfortable talking to a partner about your sexuality, if you feel embarrassed or unable to express you needs to him or her, or if you aren’t even sure what your needs are, you should ask yourself if you are really ready to become sexually involved with this person. It’s important to know yourself and be comfortable with your own sexuality before sharing it with another person. Masturbation and self-experimentation can help you discover what feels good, and feel more at home with your body. And of course, every college woman needs to be aware that by listening to yourself you aren’t just avoiding sexually awkward situations, but potentially dangerous ones. Rape, especially acquaintance and date rape, are at an all-time high on American college campuses. If you feel even a little bit uncomfortable, afraid, or just don’t feel right about a situation, pay attention to what your brain is trying to tell you. It’s trying to warn you that the situation you are in is not a good one, and that it’s not something you would do if you were thinking more clearly. Obey the signals that your body is giving you.
Stop, Think - a safer sex skill
Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where one thing is just leading to another in quick succession, and you feel that even though you don’t want to go any further things are getting too carried away for you to prevent that outcome. This is not something that only happens when a partner is sexually aggressive! Sexual contact is exciting, sometimes to the point of being overwhelming, and in the heat of the moment even the nicest partner may not realize you are uncomfortable unless you say something. This is exactly the kind of situation that can ruin a sexual relationship, especially if it is new. If you don’t take any action when you feel uncomfortable and end up engaging in a sexual activity you weren’t prepared for or interested in, it can make future encounters with that partner tense, awkward, or even impossible. Remember that you don’t have any obligations, regardless of previous encounters – just because you gave him a handjob on your last date doesn’t mean you have to have oral sex on this one, and just because you’ve already had sex with someone doesn’t mean you are required to do it again. You owe it to yourself, and your partner, not to just go along with an encounter that is approaching the edges of your comfort zones. Express how you feel, and be firm and clear to avoid misunderstandings. If you feel that you are getting too excited and your body is taking control instead of your brain, take a break, excuse yourself to the bathroom, and give yourself a moment to about where things are going. By stepping back and taking the time to think about what you are doing, you put yourself back in control of the situation and will be in a much better frame of mind to communicate your feelings to your partner.
Be Willing to Speak Up - a safer sex skill
Remember that no matter what’s happening or how far things have gone, you have the right to say no to any activity at any time. You can’t rely on your partner being a mind-reader and knowing all your needs and comfort levels; it’s up to you to be clear about what you do and don’t like, and what you are comfortable with in any given sexual encounter. If you don’t feel ready to kiss someone, then don’t. If there are places you don’t like to be touched, even if it is somewhere that seems innocuous like the arm or the back, make this clear. If you don’t want to take any of your clothing off, say no. If you don’t like giving or receiving oral sex, if you don’t like being fingered, if you don’t want to have anal sex, you have the right and the obligation to refuse these activities. You are the one responsible for ensuring a sexual experience that is both pleasurable and comfortable for you. Go into an encounter with a willingness to tell your partner what you like, and to let them know if you feel uncomfortable.
Don’t Fall for Peer Pressure - a safer sex skill
In college, students often feel pressured to have sex because it seems like all the other students are doing it. Friends may even push you to have sex, or try to convince you that if you’re not having it you’re being a prude. If you don’t want to have sex, don’t want to have sex yet, or even just don’t want to have sex with a particular person, don’t give in to this kind of influence. On the same token, don’t let worries that people with think you are easy, slutty, or a stude prevent you from having a sexual encounter that you really want to experience. Sexuality is unique for everyone, and your decisions about your body and sexuality should always be your own because only you know your comfort levels. No one else can decide what is right for you, and that is something that real friends will respect. You should never go further than you want to, or deprive yourself, just because someone else said so.
Stay Away From Bad Situations - a safer sex skill
One of the easiest ways to stay sex safe is to avoid high-risk situations. If there is a party where you know there is going to be drinking and sexual hookups, and you aren’t interested in that kind of encounter, just don’t go. Alcohol is the number one date-rape drug, and drinking severely impairs your ability to make rational decisions – even if you are actively looking to have a sexual encounter. Even between long-term, committed partners in a sexually active relationship, introducing alcohol can lead to behaviors and situations you aren’t comfortable with, and can create misunderstandings and hurt feelings at best and serious problems at worst. If you want a sexual experience, whether it is a committed partner or someone you just met, stay safe by staying sober. Alcohol clouds the judgment of all the people involved.
Don’t Give Yourself Away Lightly - a safer sex skill
Sex is fun and pleasurable under the right circumstances, but it isn’t something you should treat lightly, no matter how you go about it. Some people prefer to have experiment sexually with strangers, some people only enjoy sexual encounters with same sex partners, and some people may need to be with someone for a long time before engaging in sexual activity with them, while others are ready and happy having intercourse on the first date. Whatever your preference, listen to yourself, and take control of the situation. The choice of how you want to express of your sexuality is yours.
Always Use Protection - a safer sex skill
This one is something you’ve certainly heard before, but it is always worth saying again: always use protection. No matter how well you think you know someone, no matter how sure you are that you won’t/or your partner won’t get pregnant, even if you’re taking birth control, if you decide to have sex use a condom. Condoms are a great added form of protection. If your partner isn’t insisting on two forms of birth control, ask yourself if this is this the person you really want to be with?
A healthy sexuality is natural and normal, especially for college age students. You will have many opportunities for sexual experimentation in college, and it is important that you know how to make sure that you don’t take the opportunities you will regret later. The most important step is to know yourself. Become familiar with your sexuality, learn what you like and what you don’t, and make sure you are comfortable enough and mature enough to share these findings with a partner – and you need to be willing to listen to them as well! By taking sensible precautions and respecting yourself, you can make sure that your sexual experiences are positive, comfortable ones.