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 respectful, enjoyable, and safer relationships with yourself and others.

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.

What can I do for myself right now?

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 his or her 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

  • hormone stabilization 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:
Type of contraception Examples How to get it How to get it at UBC
Hormone stabilization method
  • The pill
  • The patch
  • The ring
You will need a prescription from a doctor before purchasing hormonal contraception at a pharmacy. Visit Student Health Service for more information and to receive a prescription.
Barrier method
  • internal condoms
  • external condoms

Purchase these at any pharmacy, sex toy store, or drug store.

You can get condoms at-cost at the Wellness Centre. Wellness Peers at the Wellness Centre can also provide more information about safer sex practices and answer any questions you might have about sexual health. You can also pick up condoms at the SASC.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs)

  • hormonal IUDs
  • non-hormonal (copper) IUDs
IUDs require a prescription and need to be inserted by a doctor. Student Health Service can prescribe and insert 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) is an option for some people. Emergency contraception is intended for occasional use only, not as a regular method of contraception.

EC can be taken within 72 hours of vaginal sex, and 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.

Though not required, you can get a prescription from a physician at Student Health Service or another doctor’s office to reduce the cost 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 whether EC 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.

Sexual assault

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature. It can include anything from unwanted sexual touching to rape or sexual exploitation.

People from all walks of life, all ages and genders can experience sexual assault. Most people know the person who assaulted them; they can be someone they know a little (e.g., a first date) or very well (e.g., a good friend or partner). Many people do not tell anyone of their assault, or even realize it was an assault until months or years later.

In Canadian law, sexual assault happens when one person does not freely consent to the sexual activity. Consent can not be given by someone who is intoxicated as a result of using drugs or alcohol. 

Learn more about sexual assault