Sexuality & sexual health

Sexual health is an important part of your physical and emotional health. Learning more about sex and sexuality can help you have safer, respectful, and enjoyable experiences.

Sexuality

In university, there are often expectations and assumptions about sex, sexuality, and what “everyone else is doing”.

Here’s an overview of what we know about sexual activity for Canadian university students:

  • 32% of students report having no sexual partners in the past 12 months
  • 45% report having 1 sexual partner in the past 12 months
  • 23% of students report having 2 or more sexual partners in the past 12 months
  • Of those who reported having a sexual partner, in the last 30 days 46.5% engaged in oral sex, 50.6% in vaginal sex, and 5.6% in anal sex. (NCHA, pg 10, 2016)

Your level of sexual activity is unique to your experiences, situation, and personal comfort; it should not depend on what you think others are doing.

Self-love

The best way to learn about your sexuality, sexual needs, and likes and dislikes is to get to know yourself sexually first. Masturbation can be done on your own (by stimulating yourself with fingers and hands) or with a sex toy or two. The UBC Wellness Centre sells sex toys of all types and has staff available to speak confidentially about what might be right for you.

Top apps and resources for sexual health

Deciding whether to have sex

“The first time – and every time – you are thinking of having sex, you should consider why you are doing it. Make sure it’s for your own reasons and not because of pressure from your partner, your friends, or others – or because of what you’ve seen online or in the media.” – sexandu.ca

It is your decision to have sex or not. There are many factors to consider before choosing to engage in sexual activity for yourself. Sex means different things to different people, so your definition of sex might not be the same as someone else’s. Reflect on your own reasons for having sex, and ask a partner about their assumptions and expectations.

If you decide to have sex, you need to respect your partner’s reasons for choosing to have or not have sex. This means checking in with your partner, recognizing that you or they can stop at any time, and feeling safe and comfortable doing so. It is each person’s responsibility to ask, listen to, and respect your partner to make sure you both have a sexual experience that is mutually enthusiastic and enjoyable.

Sexual health

Sexually transmitted infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that spread as a result of sexual activity or contact, including oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Some STIs can even be passed by skin-to-skin genital contact1. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can affect anyone who is sexually active.

STIs can be classified as bacterial (e.g., Chlamydia), viral (e.g., HPV, HIV), parasitic (e.g., pubic lice), and fungal (e.g., yeast infection).

If you are planning to be sexually active, consider and discuss STI prevention methods with your partner beforehand.

sexandu.ca (2012), Types of STIs-STDs

Preventing sexually transmitted infections

STIs can be transmitted via oral, vaginal, and anal sex.

There are four ways to prevent STI transmission:

  • Use a barrier: Use a condom for vaginal, anal, or oral sex. External and internal condoms provide a barrier to prevent STIs from spreading. Oral dams can provide STI protection for oral sex and anal stimulation.
    • At UBC, you can get condoms and oral dams at-cost at the Wellness Centre. Wellness Peers at the Wellness Centre can help provide more information about safer sex practices and answer any questions you might have about sexual health. You can also find condoms at any drug store or pharmacy.
  • Get vaccinated: Contact your family doctor to receive the HPV vaccine, which protects against some strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV).
  • Get tested: Most STIs have no symptoms, and getting an STI test is the only way to know if you or a sexual partner are positive for certain STIs. Talk to your doctor about what an STI test includes. If you test positive for an STI, your doctor will be able to recommend treatment options and can also refer you to further support resources and services.
  • Practice abstinence: The only certain way to avoid contracting an STI is to abstain from sexual activity. 

Visit sexandu.ca/stis for more information about sexually transmitted infections.

Contraception and birth control

Contraceptive methods help prevent pregnancy (an egg and sperm meeting via sexual activity). No method is 100% guaranteed to prevent pregnancy, but many methods are very effective.

Types of contraception

  • hormonal methods such as the pill, the patch, or the ring;
  • barrier methods such as internal and external condom; and
  • intrauterine devices (IUDs), which include hormonal and non-hormonal (copper) options
  • Other methods

Most contraceptive methods do not prevent STIs. External or internal condom (during vaginal and anal sex) or oral dams (during oral sex) are additional barriers to help prevent STIs.

Choosing the contraception that works for you

Choosing the right type of contraception can feel overwhelming when considering the number of options available. Here is a step-by-step guide to getting the contraception that works for you.

  1. Learn about the different types of birth control at sexandu.ca to help you make an informed decision.
  2. Once you’ve looked at some options and discussed them with your sexual partner(s), you can procure the contraception:
  1. Hormonal methods, like the pill, the patch, and the ring, require a prescription from a doctor and can be purchased at a pharmacy. 
    1. At UBC, visit Student Health Service for more information and to ask about getting a prescription.
  • You can buy barrier methods, like internal and external condoms, at any pharmacy, sex toy store, or drug store.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs) require a prescription from and insertion by a doctor.
    • At UBC, Student Health Service can prescribe IUDs. Hormonal methods and IUDs might have some additional costs.
  • The AMS/GSS Health Plan may cover a portion of the cost of most types of prescription birth control. Check your health insurance coverage to see what you’re covered for. 
  1. Check how to maximize the effectiveness of your chosen contraceptive method:
    • Follow the instructions for how to use the method
    • Ask your doctor about it
    • Learn more about the method at sexandu.ca or Options for Sexual Health.

    • Combine contraception methods. The most commonly combined methods are the Pill and the external condom. Used together they provide even more protection against pregnancy and STIs.

Emergency contraception

If you had sex without contraception or if your contraception failed during sex (ex. your condom broke, or you forgot to take the pill consistently), emergency contraception (EC) may be an option. Emergency contraception is intended for occasional use only, not as a regular method of contraception.

EC is available in the form of a pill and can be taken within 5 days of vaginal sex, but the sooner you take it after sex, the more effective it is. Taking it within the first 12-24 hours after unprotected intercourse is the most effective.

In British Columbia, you can purchase emergency contraception from any pharmacy.

You can get a prescription from a physician at Student Health Service or another doctor’s office to reduce the cost of EC and/or find out about additional options of EC.

  • Ask for a same day appointment to ensure you can get the prescription as quickly as possible.
  • You will still need to buy the EC from a pharmacy. Ask the pharmacists or check with your health insurance provider to see if the EC is covered by your health insurance.

Let the pharmacist or doctor know the number of hours that have passed since intercourse, as they might have additional suggestions for pregnancy prevention. Talk with them about which emergency contraceptive is the best option for you.

Learn more about emergency contraception.

Pregnancy

If you are concerned that you or a friend or partner may be pregnant, you may wish to use a pregnancy test.

Pregnancy Tests are available for purchase in British Columbia at any drug store or pharmacy.           

Pregnancy Tests can also be done by appointment at a doctor’s office, where a doctor or nurse may be available to discuss your contraception or pregnancy options.

Healthy relationships (romantic and/or sexual)

We all experience many kinds of relationships, and romantic and/ or sexual relationships are just one part of a larger social support network.

Tips for building healthy relationships

There are many strategies and tips for building healthy relationships. Here are a few ideas to get you started, whether you’re beginning a new relationship or you want to improve an existing one.

  • Communicate your needs. Communication is often considered one of the most important elements of a healthy relationship.

    • Own your opinions and reactions by using “I-statements” (ex. “I feel sad because this wasn’t how I expected things to turn out.”). I-statements allow you to take responsibility for how you think and feel without blaming the other person.
    • Take time to listen to what someone has to say without judgment.
    • Reflect your understanding back to the other person. Re-state what you’ve heard in your own words.
    • Remember that if someone shares their needs with you,  you do not need to respond to or meet those needs if you don’t want to.
  • Embrace Conflict. Most relationships will have some conflict. This is normal and means you disagree, not that you don’t like each other.

    • Keep the conversation about behaviour, not about personalities.
    • Stay in the present – focus on the current conflict and avoid bringing up past difficulties.
    • Make time to discuss important concerns or thoughts. If you or the other person is tired or busy, be sure to find a better time to talk about what’s bothering you.

Components of a Healthy Relationship

Safety: You aren’t worried that your partner will harm you physically or emotionally, and you aren’t tempted to harm your partner. You can change your mind about something—like having sex—without being afraid of how your partner will respond.

Honesty: You aren’t hiding anything important from your partner, and can say what you think without fear. Trust is an important part of any relationship. If you are in an open relationship or are seeing other partners, it’s important to share that with each of your partners.

Acceptance: You accept each other as you are. You appreciate your partner’s unique qualities, and don’t try to “fix” them. If you don’t like your partner’s qualities, maybe you shouldn’t be with that person.

Respect: You think highly of each other. You don’t feel superior or inferior to your partner in important ways. You respect each other’s opinions and ideas.

Enjoyment: A good relationship is enjoyable for both people. You feel energized and alive in your partner’s presence. You have fun together.

Adapted from sexandu.ca.

If you are concerned that you or a friend/family member is in a relationship that does not seem healthy, there are people you can talk to at UBC: