Embracing College ‘Sex Week’

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Written by Lily Coltoff.

Let’s cut straight to the chase: College students have a lot of sex. What else would you expect to happen when you stick a bunch of hormonal teenagers into close quarters with minimal supervision? While not everyone may be going at it with a fervor – or at all, both of which are fine – a lot of people do take advantage of this new-found freedom to explore and try out new things.

1. Require Consent

You must have consent before, during and after any hookups. Consent needs to be given when it comes to anything sexual. Defined as clear, voluntary and freely-given permission for a sexual activity, consent allows different acts to occur or progress during a hook-up. True consent also means that at any point, a “no” may be given, and consequently respected by the other partner(s). Consent makes sex much better because it ensures that everyone enjoys themselves and the experience. “If you think consent makes the situation awkward, you may not be comfortable enough with yourself or your partner to be in the situation you’re in,” said Lily Feinson, a rising junior at Brandeis University who interned at Planned Parenthood this summer (and continues to support and advocate for the organization). Since you need consent to have sex, if you can’t talk about consent, then you can’t have sex. Plain and simple.

2. Communicate with Your Partner(s)

“I think the most important aspect of safe sex, especially in small living spaces, is communication,” former RA and 2017 American University graduate Sofia Baneth said. A lot of people, particularly teenagers, tend to overlook communication as a concept when it comes to sex because it feels uncomfortable or unnecessary. But in all honesty, you can’t have good sex without communication. No one can be “good” or “bad” at sex without knowing what the other person wants. “The best sex is not your first time, or even your first time with a certain person because no one knows what they’re doing. It gets better over time, but a big part of that involves figuring out what feels best for each person,” said Nancy Nowell, a sex educator with a specialization in special education. It can only get better through communication. That way, people can figure out what to do and can explore together (which is part of the fun). While it may seem awkward at first, talking about sex (either during or at a different time) can make it much, much better.

3. Take Advantage of Free Condoms

Consent, communication and condoms–the three C’s of sex in college. Colleges have free condoms everywhere–be it the health center, residential life office or even dispensers in dorms. Your school wants you to take them (and use them). Not only do condoms prevent the spread of STDs—something that no other contraceptive device does—but for many students, they serve as the primary method of birth control. They also can serve as band-aid protectors, waterproof cases and balloons in a pinch, but most students use them for their intended purpose.

4. Use Other Forms of Birth Control (if possible)

If we lived in a perfect world, everyone would use condoms anytime they were having sex that involved a penis. But that doesn’t always happen. People get embarrassed when it comes to getting condoms (even though it shouldn’t be shameful) or right in the heat of the moment there’s an oops and you can’t find any in your nightstand or wallet. But you shouldn’t keep them there anyway since friction can render them ineffective). Regardless, unprotected sex happens. For that reason, sexually-active females should consider using birth control. “Don’t use a condom as [your primary method of] birth control,” said Nowell. Condoms can slip off or break, so you should always try to pair them with something else. A lot of people get hung up on the idea of taking a pill, but remember that other options exist, too, like IUDs or implants. Of course, you should always, ALWAYS talk to a doctor before getting birth control. Depending on pre-existing conditions or medications, it may not work for you. But for many, birth control can make life a lot easier and even help with health issues like anemia or irregular periods.

5. Don’t Rely on Plan B

Of course, sometimes the Plan A of condoms or birth control falls apart, and then Plan B—or the Morning After Pill—comes into play. As a contraceptive, Plan B works by either delaying ovulation or preventing the fertilization of an egg; it is NOT an abortion pill. Plan B has revolutionized the reproductive health care game with its efficiency and quality, but despite this, you should only use the pill in an emergency. While Plan B can save you from a pregnancy scare, you do not want to depend on it. The drug has an extremely high price tag—$60 for a pill, a huge amount of money for college students to pay out. I mean, think of how many Chipotle burritos you could buy with that. Additionally, there exists a myth – which this article initially and unfortunately included as if it were fact – that Plan B will decrease in effectiveness over time; Plan B will NOT stop working if you take it several times (this idea has no standing in medical science), but professionals do advise that you limit the number of times you take the drug as it affects hormonal levels and occasionally brings some uncomfortable side effects.

And finally, it can really mess with your system. Some people may not experience any side effects, but a lot of people will experience bloating, cramping or irregular periods after taking it. “I’ve had to take Plan B once while I was at school, and it was awful. Don’t get me wrong—it’s incredible to have a drug like this on the market—but between the price, the possible side effects and just the general terror of needing to use it make it something that you don’t want to count on. In my situation, I didn’t have much of a choice (the condom broke), but if you can avoid needing it you should do whatever it takes,” said a rising sophomore at AU.

6. Keep Your Friends in the Loop

Especially today with the popularity of Tinder, you and your friends need to cue each other in when it comes to your hookups. I don’t mean that you should tell your friends every single detail about your one-night stand with the cute guy from your Econ lecture, but if you plan to meet someone—especially someone that you matched with on an app or don’t know in real life—you need to let a friend know. Nowell suggested that you shouldn’t have sex with anyone you don’t know well or that someone hasn’t vouched for, but that can’t always happen. If you do decide to go out with someone from Tinder or somewhere else, let a friend know. That way, they can eagerly await the details over brunch the next morning.

7. Have a Confidant

“You should always have someone who you can talk to about your sex life who isn’t a part of it. A friend, a counselor, a parent, a sibling – SOMEONE,” encourages Feinson. Having a trusted resource can really help you out, especially considering the sensitivity of sex as a topic. “Sexual situations are high pressure, confusing and incredibly intimate, and having someone outside the situation who knows you and can be on your side, supporting your choices and advocating for you to take good care of yourself is great. And if something goes badly, which does, unfortunately, happen sometimes, you know you have someone to go to,” Feinson explains. Even if you don’t end up turning to this person regularly, you should establish a connection of this sort with someone just in case. Who knows? Maybe they’ll have some tips for you.

8. Remember Your Roommates

While you need to talk to your partner(s) about sex, you should also talk to your roommate(s) about it. It may not be the most fun getting-to-know-you chat, but it needs to happen, preferably early. “It’s really important to establish boundaries and make sure everyone’s expectations are clearly communicated. For roommates, this could mean setting up times when it’s okay to have a partner over, what is acceptable to do with a partner if the roommate is in the room (as some roommates may be comfortable with having a partner sleepover while others may not) and how much time partners can hang around the room without making the roommate feel uncomfortable,” said Baneth.

Tackle these issues right away. Don’t say “we’ll put that sock on that door when we come to it ” because you and/or your roommate flaunt the single status or don’t think it’ll be a problem. These topics are super important and can lead to serious conflict. Make sure to discuss these issues when you make your roommate contract or are getting settled in. After all, nothing feels worse than having to deal with a stewing roommate after you kicked their partner out of the room because you had enough. Remember that some of these issues may be subject to change, but that you should address them head on so you don’t have to deal with hookups happening in the top bunk while you lay in the bottom bunk listening to the creaking sounds above you and wishing  you could have some peace and quiet for  your beauty rest.

9. Utilize Your Resources

Sometimes, despite all your planning, things can go wrong. But remember that, especially at college, you can find plenty of people and places who want to help you out. “If there are ever ANY concerns related to sex, students should always feel comfortable reaching out to campus resources such as RAs, the health center, or other confidential resources on campus,” said Baneth. They can help you out with whatever you need, be it counseling, testing, supplies or even just advice. These resources want to help you and try to make it as easy and as painless as possible.  Some situations can feel really scary, but if you can reach out to one of these people or places, they can help make things much better for you.

10. Remember that honesty has a place in sex but judgment doesn’t

When it comes to sex, you are only accountable to yourself and your partner(s). No one else. If you want to try something, speak up. If you’re not comfortable with something, speak up and don’t let anyone (partner[s] included) give you a hard time or shame you for that choice. “What you do or don’t do with your body is your business [only] and your choice, so only do what’s right for you,” said Feinson. It all connects back to communication. Keep your partner(s) in the loop, letting them know what’s okay and what’s not okay. Beyond that, if you have an STD, let your partner(s) know. You shouldn’t be ashamed and they shouldn’t shame you for it, but out of respect for their safety you have to tell them. You can still have a good time afterward (while using appropriate protection). “Sex is a great thing when everyone feels safe and comfortable and is on the same page,” said Feinson.

Want to know more about college sex?

Jenna Johnson, Washington Post Blogger, wrote all about what happened when colleges implemented “Sex Week” on campus. Read here about how some are reacting to events, lessons, and college groups devoted to the three-letter word.

Updated on August 21, 2017 by Lily Coltoff to include “10 College Sex Commandments for a Good (and Safe) Time.” 

Lily is a sophomore Communication Studies major/Public Health minor at American University D.C. She is passionate about reading, science, foreign languages, dogs, and the Oxford comma. Yes, she is 4’4” and no, she is not growing any taller – thank you very much for asking.

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