Sex and sexual health

Overview

Sexuality is an intrinsic part of being human throughout the lifespan. Sexuality and our sexual health can influence our physical and emotional wellbeing as well as our relationships. Learning more about sex and sexual health can help someone have safer, respectful, and enjoyable experiences.

Navigating sex

Love yourself

One of the best ways to learn about your sexuality and what you like and don't like is to get to know your body first. Many folks didn’t have pleasure talked about in their upbringing or sex education in school, but it is central and paramount to healthy sexuality and sexual experiences.

Find out with you like through masturbation, which can be done on your own or with a sex toy. The UBC Wellness Centre sells sex toys of all types and has educators available to speak confidentially about what you could try or what could be right for you. Learn more about masturbation

You decide if and when to have sex

When we say 'sex' on this page, we're not only referring to intercourse. We mean the full range of sexual acts and experiences. Sex means different things to different people. You need consent for kissing, making out, touching, sexting, sharing sexy photos, and all sexual actions! 

Reflect on your own reasons for having sex.

Check in with your thoughts, your feelings and your physical body.

  • How do I know when I'm ready for sex (the first time or the 100th time)?
  • How do I know what sexual activities I'm comfortable with?
  • How do I know what my boundaries are?

Consent is key

Sexual consent is about clearly and freely agreeing to sexual activity. Consent must be the following. 

Enthusiastic

  • That's right, it has to be affirmative!
  • The absence of 'no' is not the same as an enthusiastic 'yes'.
  • Being worn down or giving in is not giving consent.
  • It is clear in words AND body language that the experience is wanted and being enjoyed.

Ongoing and revocable

  • Someone can change their mind at any time.
  • Just because someone said yes to one thing, doesn't mean they agree to anything else.

Freely and willingly given

  • It cannot be the result of trades, coercion or pressures, including a person having power or authority over another.
  • You never 'owe' someone sex. Even if they buy you dinner or help you out with something.

Informed

  • Someone must understand what they are consenting and cannot be impaired by substances or unconscious.

Explicit

  • It is clear exactly what is being consented to, with no guessing and no surprises.
  • Things like getting undressed, getting a condom, and nodding do not necessarily equal consent.
  • If it isn't a verbal and non-coerced yes, there is still the possibility that you're misreading the situation.
  • Consent is not just getting a 'yes' or 'no'—consent is a conversation.
  • It is the responsibility of all parties to receive consent from their partner(s).​​

Learn about consent in the Sexual Consent and Culture of Consent Canvas course from the UBC Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office.  

Talk to your partner

You need to respect your partner’s reasons for choosing to have or not have sex.

  • Check in with your partner
  • Recognize that you or they can stop at any time
  • Communicate so that you both feel safe and comfortable

It’s each person’s responsibility to ask, listen to, and respect their partner. That way, both people have an enthusiastic and enjoyable sexual experience.

Along with talking about consent, it’s important to verbally communicate about your sexual preferences and boundaries. Everyone has things they like and don’t like, things they want to try, and things they do not.

Questions to ask your partner

Knowing the answers to the questions below and communicating them with a partner will help you feel comfortable during sex. These questions are all components of a healthy sexual experience.

Questions on boundaries

  • What are you looking for in a sexual experience?
  • What are you comfortable with?
  • Where are your boundaries?
  • How are you going to set those boundaries?

Questions on sexual health

  • Do you need contraception to prevent a possible pregnancy?
  • What kind of contraception do you and a partner want to use?
  • Have you been tested for STIs?
  • How will you prevent STI transmission?

Questions to communicate your wants, desires, likes, and dislikes

  • What would you like to try?
  • What do you definitely want?
  • What do you definitely not want?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are a group of infections that are most commonly passed through sex (fluid exchange or skin to skin touch). While people usually do not show any signs or symptoms, they can develop into more serious infections that can be dangerous and can also be passed to others unknowingly.  Anyone who is sexually active could catch an STI. The good news is that STI transmission is preventable. If someone does catch an STI, all of them are treatable and many are curable. 

Sexually transmitted infections can be:

  • Bacterial (e.g., Chlamydia, Gonorrhea)
  • Viral (e.g., HPV, HIV, HSV)
  • Parasitic (e.g., pubic lice)
  • Fungal (e.g., yeast infection)

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

Learn more about STIs at sexandu.ca.

Preventing sexually transmitted infections

STIs can be transmitted through oral, vaginal, and anal sex. There are 4 ways to prevent STI transmission:

  1. 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. Peer Health Educators at the Wellness Centre can provide more information about safer sex practices and answer any questions. You can also get condoms at any drug store or pharmacy.

    Free internal and external condoms can be found on campus at the Wellness Centre, SVPRO and AMS SASC.
  2. Get vaccinated
    Getting the HPV and Hepatitis A & B vaccines helps protect someone from these infections. Check your vaccination history, and get up to date if possible. 

    At UBC, Student Health Service offers vaccines. There may be a cost for certain vaccines.
  3. Get tested
    Most STIs have no symptoms. Getting an STI test is the only way to know if you or a sexual partner have 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 support resources and services.

    At UBC, Student Health Service offers STI testing or visit the Smart Sex Resource for a list of STI testing locations in BC.
  4. Talk with your partner(s)
    Discussing a plan for prevention, testing history, and possible infection reduces risk of transmission, and also helps build trust and respect between partners. 
  5. Practice abstinence
    The only certain way to completely avoid getting an STI is to abstain from sexual activity.

Learn more with the Sexual Health Canvas Module created by the Wellness Centre. 

Contraception and birth control

Contraceptive methods help prevent pregnancy. Many methods are very effective at preventing pregnancy. However, no method is 100% guaranteed.

Types of contraception

  1. Learn about birth control
    Understanding the different types of birth control can help you make an informed decision.
  2. Get your preferred contraception
    Discuss the options with your sexual partner(s) before getting the contraception.
    1. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the Implant need a prescription from and insertion by a doctor.

      At UBC, Student Health Service can prescribe IUDs and the Implant. They both may have additional costs.
    2. Hormonal methods (e.g., pill, patch, ring), require a prescription from a doctor and can be bought at a pharmacy.

      At UBC, book an appointment with Student Health Service for a prescription or to get more information.
    3. You can buy barrier, non-hormonal methods (e.g., internal and external condoms) at any pharmacy, sex toy store, or drugstore.

      Free internal and external condoms condoms can be found on campus at the Wellness Centre, SVPRO or AMS SASC.
  3. Maximize the effectiveness of your birth control
    1. Follow the instructions for how to use the method.
    2. Ask your doctor about it.
    3. Learn more about the birth control method.
    4. Combine contraception methods. The most commonly combined methods are the pill and external condoms. Together, they provide more protection against pregnancy and STIs.

Learn more about contraception and birth control.

Emergency contraception

If you had sex that could result in pregnancy and did so without contraception, or if your contraception failed during sex (e.g., the condom broke, or the pill wasn’t taken consistently), emergency contraception (EC) may be an option. Since emergency contraception drastically changes your hormone levels, it is only meant to be used occasionally, it is not meant to be used as regular birth control.

Emergency contraception is available as a pill, and you can take it within 5 days of vaginal sex. 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 BC, 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 to find out about your options for EC.

  • Ask for a same-day appointment to get the prescription as quickly as possible.
  • Let the pharmacist or doctor know how many hours have passed since intercourse. They might have suggestions for pregnancy prevention.
  • Talk with them about which emergency contraceptive is the best option for you.
  • After your doctor’s appointment, you’ll 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.

Learn more about emergency contraception

Pregnancy

If you’re concerned that you may be pregnant, you can use a pregnancy test.

You can buy pregnancy tests at the Wellness Centre, or at any drug store or pharmacy in British Columbia.

A doctor or nurse can also administer a pregnancy test and discuss your birth control or pregnancy options. Book an appointment with the Student Health Service on campus, or find a clinic in Vancouver.

Healthy relationships

Relationships take on many forms and may or may not be romantic/sexual. Find tips and strategies for building healthy relationships.

Get tips

Apps and interactive resources

These websites and apps have been carefully chosen by health professionals at UBC. They’re easy and accessible tools you can use any time to help you manage your sexual health.

  • Sex & U
    Learn more about sex and sexual health.
  • Sexplanations with Dr. Lindsay Doe
    Watch sex-positive videos that answer questions about sexual health and sexuality.
  • Options for Sexual Health
    Find clinics and resources, or contact the anonymous phone line to talk about sexual health.
  • Smart Sex Resource
    Learn about STIs, testing options, find clinics, or chat with a nurse online.
  • Sexual diversity
    Join your community, access resources, and be an ally.
  • Clue
    Keep track of your monthly period cycle by entering data about your period, pain, and notes.

Peer support

It might be easier to talk with a trained student about sexuality and sexual health. They may understand what you’re going through and can offer helpful resources.

  • Wellness Centre
    Peer Health Educators at the Wellness Centre are trained students who can help if you have questions or need resources for your sexual health or anything related to your life as a student.
  • AMS Peer Support
    AMS Peer Support provides free, confidential, one-on-one peer support for UBC students facing a wide variety of challenges.

Professional help

If you need a prescription for birth control, STI testing, or support with sex and sexual health, talk to a health professional.