An International Student of Literature in England.
This is an “Anne-Sophie is angry” kind of blog today. To put it simply: I am appalled that lots of people, when they come to university, still don’t know basic but extremely important things about sex. And I’m not just talking about consent, which is something we hear all over the place (and don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing!). I’m talking about STDs, STIs and stuff like that. Apparently, some people still don’t know about them, how you catch them and how to protect yourself properly.
I’m shocked that people my age wouldn’t know these things and so I think it is absolutely necessary that I write this article, firstly because that’s a serious health and social problem, but also because we all know sex is a huge part of university (and adult life), so why not talk about it openly among students? I don’t know how many people will read it but I hope it reaches LOTS of students or teenagers and that something is done to educate people beyond school because this is a disaster.
I could blame it on the media or on the poor quality of sex education classes in the UK but I didn’t grow up in England. In my schools, we got several sex education classes and from what I remember, they were fun and good. Reproduction (of animals and humans) was part of the Year 9 biology syllabus and although everybody was very immature and laughed, I learnt a lot. I don’t know if that’s everybody’s case but it clearly worked with me. I remember the teacher trying to show us how internal condoms worked once and she completely failed.
Instead I decide to blame it on parents and the general attitude towards sex and all these “dirty things”. Why don’t you talk to your children – boys and girls – seriously about adolescence, sex, consent, diseases, pregnancy and contraception? Because it’s too embarrassing for both you and your kid? Well don’t come and complain when your daughter is pregnant or when your son has a disease.
When I was a young teenager, I got a book called “The Dictionary of Girls” that talked about so many important things. Boyfriends and girlfriends, everything to know about sex, homosexuality but also just stuff like mobiles (no social media at the time, I’m ancient!), music, tattoos, smoking, partying, school, homework, friends, reading… This book was my Bible. I remember reading some sections again and again, even when I was probably “too old” for it. I want to thank whoever bought it for me and everybody should have a book like that.
My parents aren’t super open and didn’t talk about all these things, but I clearly remember my mother telling me one day that one day if I wanted contraception, I needed to tell her. The message was clear and I never forgot that. Some people aren’t as lucky but everything is made for you to learn and get access to good service, with school, books, internet, etc.
How can you turn up at university and still be totally ignorant?
So here’s my “University 101” of sex.
Condom (internal or external): internal (female) condoms are not really famous but they exist. Everybody knows about male condoms and I think everybody should have a few, just in case! ONLY condoms can prevent the transmission of STDs and STIs. You can get them for free in lots of places!
Contraceptive Pill: the pill can be prescribed by your GP or gynaecologist for contraception and sometimes for menstruation if you have an irregular period. You need to follow the guidelines to the letter and take the pill every day – one miss could ruin everything and cause pregnancy! If you know you’re a forgetful person, the pill probably isn’t the right method for you. Lots of girls say and think it makes you gain weight but it doesn’t in the majority of cases. If it does, you can switch to another one quickly.
Implant: this is a little contraceptive thing of the size of a toothpick that is put inside your arm and lasts for up to three years! Once it’s been placed in your arm, you have nothing to do (and it’s not painful)! Like the pill, it can affect your period cycle and made it more regular or even suppress period.
IUD: like the implant, an IUD is a little thing that’s put inside you – but inside your vagina this time. You can also keep it for several years which means you have nothing to worry about.
STI stands for “sexually transmitted infection” and STD means “sexually transmitted disease”. Believe me, you don’t want to have any of these. The most famous form of STD is probably AIDS, which I’m sure (and hope) you’ve all heard of. Both girls and boys, homosexual or heterosexual, can catch and transmit them. They can be transmitted during oral sex, anal sex or vaginal penetration.
The best way to protect yourself and your partner is to wear a condom! They’re expensive but you can get them for free in lots of places (upstairs in the Hive at UEA or at Nightline for instance). Unprotected sex doesn’t mean you will definitely catch an STD or STI but your risks are multiplied – and why on earth would you take that risk? The pill, IUD, implants and all that (hormonal methods of contraception taken by girls) cannot prevent an STD or STI.
If you and your partner are in a serious and durable relationship, really trust each other and want to stop using condoms, you have two options. You can either trust them, and hope for the best. Or you can BOTH get tested at a sexual health clinic or you can ask your GP about it. It’s very quick, free and simple and it’s super important.
However, getting tested once doesn’t mean you’re free from STD or STI forever!! You can still get one with another partner or if your partner catches one somewhere else. So be careful and in doubt, ALWAYS use a condom. There is no excuse.
We hear about “consent” a lot nowadays, especially on internet. Although that’s a really good and important message, I still think people should talk about all the things I’ve mentioned previously as much!
Consent basically means saying “yes” or “no” to any kind of sexual activity, without you have sex or just do foreplay. Being forced into something you do not want to do is wrong and it’s called abused (or rape). Nobody has any right over your body: if you don’t feel comfortable, you have the right and MUST say “Stop” at once, even if you wanted sex at first. There is no concern to have about what your partner is going to say or think. No is no, they should just respect that. Equally, you should never put any kind of pressure on someone.
I see so many students asking if it’s normal to be a virgin or to never have had a boyfriend/girlfriend. Of course it’s normal! You don’t need to care about what anybody else says or does! This is your life, your choice. Too many people feel pressured into sex past a certain age or want to “get it out of the way” when they believe they’ve been virgin for too long. It is obviously a stupid attitude to have.
If you want to have sex, that’s fine. But you shouldn’t feel forced to do so even if it seems like all the other students around you are in relationships, because there are many people in the same situation. Because you’re 20 and never had sex or never kissed anyone shouldn’t make you feel like an outsider. You should be proud of your choices and of resisting social pressure.
Sex is only right if it’s the right time for you and that you’re sure that’s what you wanted. Once it’s done, there’s no going back and you might regret it later on. So in a nutshell, don’t feel pressured into anything just because society tells you that’s what you have to do.
For more information of all this, I strongly advise that you have a look at the NHS website with all the official information and guidelines to follow if you think that you have a problem. If you have any doubt, go to you GP as soon as possible!
I seriously think that sharing that kind of information among teenagers and also university students is vital!
I also want to encourage UEA to give condom(s) and leaflets about what I’ve just talked about (infections, diseases, different methods of contraception, pregnancy risks etc) in the fresher packs they give to every student when they move in! This would be so much more important than giving rice or whatever and would be a much cooler way to encourage students to be more sensible when it comes to sex! It can only be positive for students since it means there is no concern to have over the price of condoms or the shame of going somewhere to ask for free condoms.
I genuinely hope someone reads this and decides to makes it possible from next year onwards! And if it doesn’t, I’d be rewarded if this helps just only person.
Thanks for reading!