Students shouldn’t be afraid to talk about sexual health

By Raven Nyman

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Do you remember the first time you had “the talk”?

It might have been with your parents or at school, or maybe you never had it at all and just sort of figured things out on your own with a little help from books, television, or the Internet. Entering university, I was surprised to find just how little some of my first-year friends knew about their bodies and their sexual health. It seemed that many of them had never had “the talk”. Willingness to speak openly about these subjects varies from culture to culture. That means that for many young people, university is often a place for learning about more than just academics.

This can be a good or bad thing. It can certainly be bad when students feel pressured into becoming sexually active, or become sexually active but are unequipped with the proper information to keep themselves and their partners safe. It can also be bad when the university experience is depicted as a time of rampant and unprotected sexual promiscuity, or when fraternities chant disturbing phrases that perpetuate rape culture (yes, this has happened on various Canadian university campuses in recent years). For many students, this is not the experience of post-secondary that they want to engage in. How then, do we combat these issues? Information, open-conversation, and accessibility are key ingredients in achieving a sexual health education that covers consent, contraceptives, and accountability. Thankfully, most universities have everything you need to figure it all out.

Keeping silent about these topics, or declaring them taboo, is not the way to go. Instead, open dialogue that allows students to learn, understand, and access sexual healthcare is positive—and crucial—for young people. My first-year residence put on a sexual health panel called “Let’s Talk About Sex”, where first year students gathered in the Commonsblock to ask questions about love, consent, sex, and intimacy. It’s not uncommon to see nurses and various organizations handing out free contraceptives in the first year Commonsblocks either. Further, post-secondary institutions will often bring in guest speakers to offer open discussion on topics surrounding sexual health —for example, Laci Green visited UBC a few years back to speak about rape culture and consent in university-settings.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, your university’s Student Health Service Centre is a great place to talk to doctors about any of your concerns, to schedule your STI testing or checkups, and to learn about and receive contraceptives. Research shows that most individuals infected by STIs don’t notice any obvious symptoms of an infection; that means that sexually active individuals who don’t get tested—or have never been tested—can pass on infections to their partners without knowing it. Surprisingly, many young people don’t realize this, or perhaps don’t grasp the responsibilities that come with being sexually active. University-aged individuals are most at risk for contracting and spreading STIs, which means that both women and men have a responsibility to get tested, and to continue getting tested if changing partners. Young women are recommended to schedule Pap smears, but young men are far less encouraged to be responsible and health conscious about their sexual activity. Thus, it’s imperative that both men and women be proactive—and get educated—when it comes to sexual health, especially when symptoms of disease or infection are often invisible regardless of gender. 

Students shouldn’t be afraid to engage in conversations around their sexual health and intimacy. When in doubt, get informed. And if you don’t feel comfortable asking, do your own research. As I’ve shown, your university typically provides numerous health care options to assist you, so be sure to take advantage of them and stay proactive when it comes to your health and wellness.