Looking after your health and wellbeing is super important, and your sexual health is included within that.
The only difference between general health and sexual health is that some people find it more challenging to talk openly about sexual health.
However, it’s important that conversations are had – between sexual partners, in the wider community, and with doctors and nurses when need be. There is nothing to be scared or ashamed of.
In this article, we’ll tackle the topics of communication, consent, protection, STIs, sexual assault, and the support your Leeds university provides.
Communication is vital for safe sex
If you are sexually active or planning on becoming sexually active, then you must consider how you are going to stay safe. This can include — but isn’t limited to — consent and protection methods.
Ensure you gain consent from the other person before sex, and for every new aspect throughout. For example, if you are engaging in oral sex and would like to move onto penetrative sex, you must have an explicit agreement from your sexual partner before that takes place. This may sound like a mood killer, but consent is vital as is respect of your sexual partner’s wishes. If they don’t want to engage in a sexual act, then do not pressure them to do so.
Likewise, if your partner wants to do something sexually that you are not comfortable with, say no. Don’t ever do anything you don’t want to do. Most partners will accept this and be happy to continue with what you were doing before – be it cuddling, kissing, or another sexual act.
If a sexual partner doesn’t respect your “no” or tries to coax you into doing something you don’t want to do, stand your ground and then remove yourself from the situation.
If you feel like you’ve done anything sexual against your will or without your consent, then this is sexual assault or rape — we touch on these topics later in the article.
Protection is essential both for avoiding sexually transmitted infections and for preventing unwanted pregnancies.
There is a wide range of protection available, and it’s worth discussing the options with a sexual health professional, a nurse, or your GP.
The options fit into two categories: barrier and hormonal. Barrier is the only type that can protect against STIs, whereas hormonal types prevent pregnancies only. Please note that no method offers 100 per cent protection, however.
You may find that you need to experiment to find the right solution for you and your body. For example, there are many versions of the contraceptive pill, which all contain a different balance of hormones, and some will suit you or your partner more than others.
However, unless you’re in a relationship and you’ve both been tested for STIs, hormonal contraception would be more of a back-up option to a barrier method.
Barrier methods include:
- Male condoms
- Female condoms
- Dental dams
Hormonal methods include:
- Contraceptive pill
- Contraceptive coil
- Contraceptive implant
- Contraceptive injection
- Emergency contraception (also known as the morning-after pill, and not to be used regularly)
Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections, also known as STIs, are transmitted through unprotected sex or genital contact. The sex can be vaginal, anal or oral. As mentioned above, nothing offers 100 per cent protection, so you can use a condom and still catch or pass on an STI. If you were to only use a hormonal contraception method, then you would have zero protection against STIs.
Most STIs don’t have symptoms, so it is always worthwhile getting tested between sexual partners, even if you feel fine. While most STIs can be cleared up with a course of antibiotics, they can wreak havoc when left untreated and go on to affect fertility in all genders.
While it is common to have no symptoms, you may experience some symptoms, and when you do, you should get checked out straight away – the quicker an STI is caught, the better it can be treated.
Symptoms for all genders can include:
- Pain when you pass urine
- Sores, lumps, spots or blisters around the genitals or anus
- Itching, tingling or burning sensations around the genitals
- Tiny white dots or black powder in your underwear – signs of pubic lice
Symptoms for those with a vagina:
- Unusual vaginal discharge (in smell and colour)
- Bleeding after sex or between periods
- Pain during sex
- Abdominal pain
Symptoms for those with a penis:
- Discharge from the penis
- Urethral irritation
The above symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have an STI, but either way, it is essential you visit your GP for diagnosis and treatment.
Sexual health screening
If you’re in a monogamous relationship and you’ve both been tested already, then you won’t need regular sexual health screening. However, if you are sleeping with new partners regularly, then it is vital to get regular sexual health checks (and, of course, practice safe sex).
Ideally, you want proof of an ‘all-clear’ from a new partner before you sleep with them — even when using condoms.
If you’d like an STI check and you aren’t able to make it to your university’s screening dates (listed below), you can easily book your own via your GP or by visiting your local sexual health clinic. You can find out more on the Leeds Sexual Health website.
It is especially crucial if you are a person with a vagina and are sexually active, or have ever been, that you attend your cervical screening (smear test) when invited by your GP. This checks your cervix for abnormal cells with a view to preventing cancer from developing.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time and is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of acts.
What is rape?
The legal definition of rape is “penetration with a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person without their consent”. Consent means you are genuinely willing to engage in the activity, so you cannot consent if you are:
- Very drunk or under the influence of drugs
- Feeling threatened or scared
What is sexual assault?
Assault by penetration is the penetration of the vagina or anus with an object or another body part (not the penis) without consent, and it carries the same sentencing in law as rape.
Sexual assault can take many forms and is any unwanted sexual behaviour. This can happen outside of or within a relationship.
Please remember that rape and sexual assault are never the victim’s fault. Whether you’re out drinking, you’ve taken drugs, or you’re wearing a short skirt – the only person ever at fault is the offender.
If you think you might have been sexually assaulted or raped, we encourage you to contact the Police as soon as possible. If that seems too intimidating, then speak to your university’s support team, and they’ll be able to help you.
Alternatively, you can speak to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) on 01924 298 954.
Sexual health support at your university
University of Leeds
At a student at the University of Leeds, you have access to free condoms and lube, which you’ll find outside the Exec office upstairs in the Union (so you don’t even have to talk to anyone!) There are also plans to provide other contraception types in the future.
Leeds Beckett University
Leeds Beckett students can pick up free contraception packs from the SU Reception on both the City and Headingley campuses. These contain Durex condoms. If you’d prefer or require other contraception types, the Receptions also stock a limited number of SKYN latex-free condoms, Passante female condoms, and Passante dams. You can also drop by if you need a pregnancy testing kit.
If you’d like free sexual health screening, this is being provided by Leeds Skyline for free on the following dates:
- Wednesday 17 April 2020, 11 AM – 2 PM on City Campus
- Wednesday 22 May 2020, 11 AM – 2 PM on City Campus
Leeds Trinity University
Leeds Trinity Students’ Union offers free condoms to all under-25s. You can pick these up from the Union during the usual opening hours.