Your sexual health is another vital part of your wellbeing and is nothing to be embarrassed about. Just like your physical and mental health, you can take care of your sexual health through self awareness and taking precautions. If you're worried or if something has happened that you did not give consent for, there's plenty of support for you.
If you are sexually active, consider the need to:
- Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you are sexually active, it's a good idea to be tested regularly for STIs. You can get tested for STIs at Sexual Health Clinics and certain pharmacies. They can also provide information and advice on sex, contraception and personal relationships.
- Use contraception to protect yourself from STIs and unplanned pregnancy (if applicable). Using contraception is the best way to protect against pregnancy although they are not 100% effective so make sure you understand how your particular one works.
- Develop confidence to talk about sexual health with your partner and GP
Sexual health services
You can get support and information regarding sexual health from:
- Your doctor (GP) can provide information and free contraception and STI checks
- Sexwise - honest advice about contraception, pregnancy, STIs and pleasure
- The NHS – their sexual health pages provide information on general sexual health and STIs
- The Barnet Gov website has some really good resources and advice. There are options to speak to somebody on the phone, to receive advice and support, and to receive postal kits. There is also information on how to seek support with your sexual health in light of COVID-19.
- The Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123 or NHS 111
I want to know more about emergency contraception
If you've had unprotected sex or the contraception failed, you can get emergency contraception for free from your GP, most NHS walk in centres, sexual health clinics, some hospital A&E departments and Brook centres (if you are under 25). Certain pharmacies also offer emergency contraception but there may be a charge for it.
I want to know more about cancer screens and self checking
Cervical screening tests
All women over the age of 25 in England will receive a letter from their doctor every three years to remind them to book an appointment for their cervical screening test (sometimes referred to as ‘smear test’). This is a quick and painless test to detect pre-cancerous changes in cells from the cervix (neck of the womb). Early cell abnormalities can be picked up and monitored or treated and eliminated to prevent progression to actual cancer. It's really important to register with a doctor and keep your details up to date so that you can ensure you get regular smear tests.
Breast and testicular cancer: self-examination
Get into the habit of checking yourself on a monthly basis to look for any changes, swelling, pain, lumps or bumps. For more information visit the ‘What should my testicles look and feel like?’ or the how should I check my breasts? pages.
Infertility & IVF
If you are experiencing In vitro fertilisation (IVF) we recognise that this may be a particularly challenging time for you. Please reach out to university services for support. You may also find the following resources helpful:
You may find this podcast series from the BBC called Sex, Drugs and Lullabies interesting and supportive.
I want to know more about consent
Watch this quick interactive presentation to learn more about consent.
Just because you give permission for one thing to happen, like a kiss, doesn't mean you've automatically consented to other kinds of sexual behaviour. The same goes for your partner – always ask, never presume. It's important that everyone involved in any type of sexual activity has freely given their full consent. Similarly, if you've given consent previously, your partner shouldn't assume that you've consented to sexual activity at any time in the future.
And you're allowed to change your mind – don't feel you must continue if you don't want to and do let your partner know you're not happy to carry on. You can stop at any point during sexual activity.
Consent cannot be given by anyone under the age of 16 in the UK.
Lack of consent may not always be communicated verbally. If your partner pulls away from you, tries to push you away or seems uncomfortable in any way during sexual contact, ask them if they're okay to continue. If you're the one feeling uncomfortable, say so. Without your full consent, your partner should know not to continue. It might be easier to start by saying something like 'Can we just take a break for a moment and talk about this?'
Sexual consent can be cloudy in new relationships. When you meet someone new, be open to discussing your boundaries with each other. It might seem uncomfortable at first, but you'll be able to be more open and trusting with each other once you're on the same page. And that makes for a much better relationship.
Remember, not all sexual relationships are portrayed realistically in the media and online, especially in porn. When approaching a new relationship, remember that consent is rarely displayed in porn and your partner shouldn't be expected to perform in the same way either.
Lack of capacity to consent
If drugs or alcohol are a factor in your sexual activity, consent can be harder to be sure of. If you or your partner are under the influence of any substances, you and they may be unable to make informed decisions and you should shop engaging in any form of sexual activity.
I want to know more about sexual violence or harassment
Rape Crisis England and Wales describes sexual violence as 'any kind of unwanted sexual act or activity, including rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and many others'. This means that any sexual activity without consent is deemed as sexual violence, and is a criminal act. Respect the boundaries of others, and be free to voice your concerns if you're uncomfortable in a situation so others can respect you.
Citizen's Advice describes sexual harassment as 'unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
If you experience or witness any kind of sexual harassment, report it to Report.It.To.Stop.It at the university or if it's an emergency call the police.
Pregnancy can have an effect on your studies, completing placements, taking exams or meeting deadlines.
Take a look at our dedicated support page here and read the university’s policy to find out how we can support you. Taking a home pregnancy test can tell you if you're pregnant. You can buy pregnancy tests from most pharmacies or supermarkets or get one for free from sexual health clinics and Brook centres.
If the test is positive, you should make an appointment with your GP who will be able to confirm the result, explain the next steps and talk you through your options going forward.
This Mum Moves gives guidance and support to help women to be active during and after pregnancy.
There are many charities and companies who also offer sexual health advice. FPA is one such charity that provides information around sexual health, relationships and topics such as consent, disability and sex.