Let's Talk About Sex

According to recent surveys, the average college student thinks about sex, sexual behavior and sexual issues over 100 times per day. I do not know exactly how this information was gathered, however I do know one thing: UCSD students have always been above average.

Back in the 1960s, people who are now the age of our parents thought they had literally reinvented the wheel when they started the sexual revolution. Suddenly, sexual behavior, previously described as illicit, sinful and evidence of moral depravity, became a sign that the participants were enlightened.

Whereas before when most premarital sex had gone on between people who at least intended to marry each other (engagement sex), now people were going to bed with whoever they ended up with at the end of the night. This led, unfortunately, to a lot of unsafe sexual practices in the name of “”free love,”” which has consequently left our generation holding the proverbial bag. Because we have the knowledge and information to effectively prevent disease transmission and pregnancy, it is important, now more than ever, that people take precautions.

By the time we reach college, most students at some point or another have heard an unhealthy mix of both factual and incorrect information regarding birth control. The truth of the matter is that the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sex.

Studies show, however, that this is not the preferable option for most college students. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, 86.1 percent of college students nationwide have had sexual intercourse during their lifetime. In fact, more than one-third of college students nationwide have had sexual intercourse with six or more partners.

What this shows is that people are having sex. But even if you have already had sexual relations with someone, it is never too late to begin being safe.

Birth Control and STD Prevention

It is important to note that according to the CDC, 35.1 percent of college students nationwide reported that they had been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant. Assuming that not all of them meant to get pregnant, this means that there are educated, young adults that are still making unsafe or unwise decisions regarding birth control.

If you have decided that complete abstention from sexual behavior is not the most desirable option, rest assured. There are other ways to protect yourself. The best protection from sexually transmitted disease and accidental pregnancy begins with accurate and complete information.

The decision to be unsafe can be unintentional, however. As we all know, it only takes one encounter to transmit disease or cause a pregnancy. According to the CDC, college students are not being safe. Although 79.8 percent of college students reported using some form of birth control during their last sexual intercourse, these methods included everything from birth control pills and condoms to the withdrawal method (coitus interruptus), which is not a safe form of birth control.

“”Only 29.6 percent of students who had sexual intercourse during the 3 months preceding the survey had used a condom at last sexual intercourse, and 34.5 percent had used birth control pills,”” reports the CDC.

Before deciding to become sexually active, it is best if you and your partner step back and take a few precautions before jumping into the sack. Both opposite sex and same sex partners need to be aware of sexually transmitted diseases.

First, all participants who have engaged in sex previously should be tested for any sexually transmitted diseases. Women who have had their annual exam should not assume that a healthy pap smear means that they are disease-free. STDs such as HIV and AIDS, hepatitis, gonorrhea and others are not always automatically tested for. Doctors often require that patients not only verbally request the test, but that they sign consent forms. These tests can require blood samples, urine samples or swabs from the genitals. Not all STDs have visible symptoms, so it is highly advisable that anyone engaging in sexual activity with a previously sexually active partner request these tests.

After all the tests have been taken, the second step for heterosexual partners is appropriate birth control. There are several ways to stop pregnancy, and all have positive and negative side effects. The best plan is to pick a form of birth control that is acceptable to you and your partner.

Some people prefer chemical methods like birth control pills or a Depo-provera shot that is effective for three months. The pill is an option, provided the woman does not react negatively to the hormones in the pill, and takes it consistently. A second form of birth control should be used in the event that a woman on the pill fails to take her required dosage more than one time during the month.

“”Millions of women use the pill because it is convenient, reliable and safe. It is more than 99 percent effective — depending on how correctly it is used. It is safer than pregnancy and childbirth for nonsmoking women of all ages,”” states the Planned Parenthood Web site.

Women who smoke should not take birth control pills. According to Planned Parenthood, women over age 35 who smoke and take the pill are nearly 40 times more likely to have a heart attack than women who do not smoke or take the pill.

For women who do smoke, or who have difficulty remembering to take birth control pills every day at the same time, there is another chemical alternative. Depo-provera, or DPMA, is the brand name of a prescription method of reversible birth control. It is a hormone like progesterone, one of the hormones that regulates the menstrual cycle.

“”A shot of DMPA in the buttock or arm can prevent pregnancy for 12 weeks. The shot keeps the ovaries from releasing eggs, thickens cervical mucus to keep sperm from joining eggs, and is 99.7 percent effective against pregnancy,”” states the Panned Parenthood Web site.

The shot is one of the most effective reversible methods of birth control. Of every 1,000 women who use it, only three will become pregnant during the first year. Protection is immediate if you get the shot during the first five days of your period. Otherwise, use an additional method of contraception for the first two weeks. Protection will last for approximately 12 weeks. It is a safe form of birth control, but it does not prevent transmission of STDs. The Depo-provera shot and a variety of different birth control pills are available at the student health center.

Condoms or diaphragms are also acceptable alternatives. Diaphragms are a safe form of birth control, however they must be inserted two hours before sex, and must stay in place at least eight hours after sex. The advantage of condoms is that they are an excellent way to prevent the transmission of STDs. Other forms of birth control do prevent pregnancy when used correctly, however they do not prevent disease transmission. In all cases, spermicide should be used in addition to condoms and diaphragms.

Some people complain that each of these options takes away the spontaneity of sex. However, planning for sex can make the actual act much better. Anticipated, coordinated and deliberate sexual activity forces both participants to take full responsibility for their behavior, but can also ultimately increase the enjoyment.

Emergency Contraceptive

In the event that your primary form of birth control does fail, there are alternatives. The Student Health center and Planned Parenthood provide an emergency contraceptive. Emergency contraception, or EC, is birth control you take after you have sex, but before pregnancy. It should be used for emergencies only, because it is less effective than regular methods of contraception.

EC is used in the event that you have engaged in unprotected sex, if your primary form of birth control failed (like a ripped condom), or in the event of sexual assault.

“”Emergency contraceptives are regular birth control pills administered in higher doses over a short period of time. EC works in several different ways. It thickens the mucus at the opening of the womb (the cervix), making it harder for sperm to get through. If it’s taken at certain times in the menstrual cycle, it may prevent ovulation. Or, it may make the lining of the uterus thinner, so an egg does not become implanted,”” states the Planned Parenthood Web site.

Be aware that emergency contraception is not the most pleasant experience. Most women who take it experience some nausea. According to Planned Parenthood, it is not as effective as birth control pills or barrier methods. However, nearly 75 percent of pregnancies may be prevented by EC. It is most effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It does not work if someone is already pregnant.

Be Safe About Being Safe

Accurate information is not always easy to come by in this society where discussion of sexuality is often taboo.

Even people with the best of intentions may not be completely informed on the subject of sex, because there is so much false information. Be sure that you check multiple sources, or at least verify your information when seeking out the best possible forms of birth control and STD prevention.

Here are a few tips: Be wary of anyone telling you that more is better. Some may think that if one condom is safe, then two is even better. Rubber rubbing against rubber equals a ripped condom. Under no circumstances should couples “”double up,”” and that includes using a female and male condom together. To be safer, consider using two forms of birth control, like the pill and condoms, a Depo-provera shot and condoms, or something to that effect. A barrier method coupled with a chemical inhibitor greatly reduces the harmful effects of human error.

Some “”how-to”” guides may inadvertently contradict themselves or provide dangerous tips for sexually active couples. One book prescribed using mineral oil as a lubricant on one page, and cautioned people to use condoms on another. Be aware that any oil-based lubricants compromise the integrity of a latex condom, and virtually ensure breakage or leakage. This includes mineral oils, hand lotions, massage lubricants and whipped cream. Avanti condoms are nonlatex condoms that will not break when partnered with oil-based lubricants. However, they do not provide any protection against STDs. Additionally, introducing oil into the vagina can result in uncomfortable infections. It is best to stick with water-based lubricants, such as KY jelly or others when using lubricants during sexual intercourse.

One final warning: Birth control pills become less effective, to the point of being completely ineffective, when taken with any antibiotics. Some doctors fail to realize that their female patients are on birth control pills when they prescribe antibiotics, and this can result in unintended pregnancy. Be sure to let your doctor know that you are on birth control pills when he is giving you a prescription. It is best, if you need to take antibiotics, to use an additional method of birth control while taking the medication.

In no way should this be considered a comprehensive treatment of birth control, or of safe sexual behavior. If you are considering becoming sexually active, or are interested in amending your previous forms of birth control, Student Health services on campus has a free clinic to help people choose the right birth control method for them. Additionally, information is available from Planned Parenthood, or from your health care provider.

For more information regarding birth control and safe sexual behavior, contact the student health serveces at (858) 534-8089. You can also contact Planned Parenthood at (619) 683-7526, or go to their Web site at http://www.planned.org. If you feel that you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, please call Student Safety Awareness at (858) 534-5793. For more information regarding statistics on college sexual activity, go to the Center for Disease Control’s Web site at http://www.cdc.gov.