Regardless of whether or not you choose to have sex, the types of sex you may choose to have or who you have it with, it is worth making yourself aware of the risks so you can make informed choices for yourself and support friends who may seek your advice. On this page, you can find some information on what the college can provide as well as links to external sources of information and support. This is a starting point, only covering the essentials. Do click on the links to find out more!
- Emergency contraception
- College and SU Sexual Health Supplies
- Sexual Health Clinics and External Resources
Before you read the rest, know that pre-come can contain sperm, sperm can swim, and there is always a transfer risk with pre-come or ejaculate. Withdrawing before ejaculating won’t necessarily prevent pregnancy and even if you’re having a type of sex which shouldn’t get someone pregnant (e.g. anal) you need to be careful not to let sperm get near the entrance to the vagina. Since sperm can survive for up to seven days inside the body, it is possible for someone to get pregnant from having sex at any time, including during their period.
There are lots of forms of contraception, so if you’re unsure which method to use, give this a read or consult a health care provider (more about this below).
These methods protect against both STIs and pregnancy. It is important to remember that no form of protection is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy or STIs. To ensure you are being as safe as possible, use products that have the European CE or Kite mark and that are in date. Do not use a single barrier product more than once.
Condoms can generally be used on anything that is being inserted (e.g. toys) and come in flavours for oral sex. When used correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are 98% effective at preveting pregnancy. If you accidentally try to put a condom on the wrong way up, throw it away so you don’t risk transferring the pre-come. More information about using condoms can be found in the link above.
Femidoms are like condoms, but are inserted into the vagina instead of being put onto something and if used correctly are 95% effective. They can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex, can be used with a range of sizes of insertibles and are something the person receiving can wear. Some people use Femidoms anally, although there are no studies into how reliable they are during anal sex. For advice on using Femidoms, look at the link above.
When using condoms and femidoms, do not use two at once! The friction actually increases the risk of them splitting. Using oil-based lubricants also increases the risk of tearing (see below).
These are rectangles of latex that are put over the genitals during anal or vaginal oral sex, and come in a variety of flavours. If you’re using a latex dental dam, beware of oil based products (see below) as they can deteriorate the material.
Using lube during sex can help reduce the risk of STI transmission by reducing damage to genitals and preventing condoms from slipping off or tearing. Using the right lube is important: Oil-based lubes and products (e.g. Vaseline, body lotion or lipstick) can deteriorate latex, so use water-based lube instead. Silicone-based lube can be latex-safe but tends to damage sex toys and make them more likely to transmit infections due to changes in the surface (use a toy cleaner instead).
These products can only be used by those assigned female at birth and only protect against pregnancy, not STIs. If you are unsure which method is right for you, speak to your GP, a GUM clinic or the college nurse about your options. There is more information on the Women’s page or visit the links to the NHS website.
Male Contraceptive Pill
Although there’s ongoing research into a male contraceptive pill, there isn’t one available yet. Currently, the only contraception available to men are condoms and vasectomy. Researchers are optimistic that a safe, effective and reversible method will eventually become a reality, although this is still several years away. Read more about the latest research into this area:
- Male contraceptive jab ‘effective’, but side effects are common
- Sperm blocking study brings ‘male pill’ closer
Emergency contraception should be used soon after having unprotected sex (due to failed or no contraception), to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of emergency contraception, but neither is 100% effective and both methods work better the sooner you take them. Neither method protects against STIs or causes an abortion should you be already pregnant.
Emergency Contraceptive Pill (the morning after pill)
There are two kinds of emergency contraceptive pills: Levonelle (taken within 72 hours of sex), and ellaOne (taken within 120 hours of sex). They aren’t intended to be used as a regular form of contraception, so if you have unprotected sex at any time after taking the emergency pill, you can become pregnant. You can get the emergency contraceptive pill in advance of having unprotected sex if you’re worried about your contraceptive method failing, going on holiday or can’t get hold of emergency contraception easily. Women can still take either pill, even if they cannot use hormonal contraception. Compatibility of both pills with regular contraceptive methods (e.g. implant or the pill) can be found via the link above.
Known side effects are headaches or stomach pains and vomiting, among others. The emergency contraceptive pill can make your next period earlier, later or more painful than usual. If you vomit within 2 hours of taking Levonelle or 3 hours of taking ellaOne, go to your GP, pharmacist or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, as you’ll need to take another dose or have an IUD fitted.
The intrauterine device (IUD) is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, as long as it is inserted into your uterus up to 5 days after unprotected sex. It is a small, T-shaped plastic and copper device that’s put into your womb by a doctor or nurse. If you use the IUD as emergency contraception, it can be left in and used as your regular contraceptive method, which is effective up from 5 to 10 years. In this case, it can make your periods longer, heavier or more painful. You may feel some discomfort when the IUD is put in, but painkillers can help.
Most women can use an IUD, including those who are HIV positive, because it does not react with any other medicines. The IUD might not be suitable if you have an untreated STI or a pelvic infection, problems with your womb or cervix or unexplained bleeding between periods or after sex. The IUD shouldn’t be inserted if there’s a risk that you may already be pregnant. Complications after having an IUD fitted are rare, but can include pain, infection, damage to the womb or the IUD coming out of your womb.
Where can I get them from?
At a GP or the Lime Tree Clinic, a doctor or nurse will talk you through some questions to decide if emergency contraception is the right choice for you, and also talk about side-effects and long term contraception. They will then insert the IUD or give you a prescription for the pill which you will then have to take to a pharmacy, but without having to pay the charge. Emergency contraception is also available out of hours from Addenbrookes A&E department.
If you are registered at a Cambridge GP, certain pharmacies can give you the morning after pill for free. Ask to talk to a pharmacist about emergency contraception (or if you prefer, you can say ‘Levonelle’). They will then ask you some questions and give you information on potential side-effects and problems. The following pharmacies are part of this scheme:
- Boots (Grafton Centre, Petty Cury)
- Lloyds (Arbury Court, Trumpington Street)
- Superdrug (Fitzroy Street, Sidney Street)
Getting an STI isn’t shameful or uncommon, but it’s still best avoided. Not all STIs have symptoms that show but some can become very nasty if left untreated so you should learn how to avoid them and get tested if you think you may be at risk. If you are sexually active, it’s probably worth getting tested on a relatively frequent basis even if you think you’re at a low risk. If you have any symptoms or concerns about your health you should consult your GP or visit a GUM clinic.
While it’s true that different activities carry different risks, no sexual act is free from the chance of getting an STI. STIs can be transmitted whether or not the vagina/anus is fully penetrated and even if ejaculation does not occur. The method of protecting yourself against STIs depends on exactly what kind of sexual activity you are practising:
- Fingering and foreplay carries a much lower STI risk than other forms of sex, but it can still transmit STIs. Bacterial infections like Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be easily transmitted if you get semen, pre-come or vaginal fluid on your hands, and warts and herpes can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact. Protective gloves can be worn if you are worried about this.
- All STIs can be transmitted through oral sex. The risk of HIV infection is low, but is higher if semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with small cuts or ulcers in your mouth. Using a dental dam or condom will minimise the risk, and you should avoid unprotected oral sex if you have a cold sore.
- All STIs can be transmitted through penetrative sex. Condoms and femidoms are the best way to prevent STI transmission. This advice applies whatever type of penetrative sex you’re having as other insertibles can carry STIs too. You should also be wary of cross-contamination between the vagina and anus.
- The risk of STI transmission is higher for anal sex as the lining of the anus is thinner and easily damaged, but all penetrative sex can be made less risky by being gentler, using plenty of lube (make sure it’s water-based if you’re using latex condoms) and preparation to relax the muscles.
Getting tested regularly ensures you know whether you have an STI, that you can receive treatment quickly if you do, and prevent the further spread of STIs to others. Remember that the majority of STIs are treatable and it’s best to get a diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible. How often you choose to get tested is a personal choice based on your own analysis of the risks, but the NHS recommends that you visit a sexual health clinic once per year, or if:
- you want some sexual health advice
- you want a check-up, even if you have no symptoms
- you or your partner have symptoms
- you have had unprotected sex with a new partner
- you or your partner has had unprotected sex with other partners
- you have been told you have been in contact with an infection
- you have been sexually assaulted
Most people get STI tests at GUM clinics (more information below). Getting tested at a clinic is less scary than many people fear. You will be asked about your sexual history, and from this you can get advice on the STIs you could have and which tests to do. Tests can include swabs of the vagina, cervix, urethra, anus or throat; blood and urine samples and internal examinations. All tests are optional and you can choose to have some and not others, or to try to give a sample and stop if you’re uncomfortable. Clinics will be used to this and won’t judge you.
Or you can order STI tests online at iCASH, which will be delivered to you. This can be a viable option if you want to collect the samples yourself, rather than a doctor/nurse do it. But if you choose this option, remember that you will have to visit a clinic to receive treatment, should you test positive.
College and SU Sexual Health Supplies
The Welfare Officers collect packages of sexual health supplies from the SU Building on a regular basis, so that they can keep the Welfare Lockers in F staircase (central site), BoHo common room, WYNG Gardens common room and BBC common room well stocked. You can also go along to the SU Building reception yourself and get supplies, if you would prefer. Alternatively, the SUAS are going to run a discreet click and collect service for sexual health supplies soon. The following items are provided:
17 Mill Lane
(01223) 333 313
Mon – Fri | 9:30am – 5:00pm
Please be considerate of others when taking supplies. For example, if you don’t have a latex allergy, please avoid using Latex-free condoms if you can, so that there are some free for people with allergies. Some of the items come in limited amounts, so feel free to drop an anonymous note in either of our pigeon holes or email us (on the JCR Committee and Welfare pages) to let us know if any of the lockers are running low. The SU Welfare Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is also available to answer any questions or queries about sexual health and supplies.
Depending on what you need (contraception, STI test, etc.) you may choose to go to a GP, Sexual Health Clinic or Pharmacy. Whatever your preference, all services are free (for home and international students), confidential and non-judgmental. Remember, they’ve seen everything before! You can even give a fake name if you wish. If you are unsure where is best to go, in your circumstance, then visit the above link for more information. The clinics in Cambridge include:
- The Lime Tree Clinic – a Sexual Health Clinic
You can make an appointment or a drop in contraception and sexual health session on Mondays between 14:00 and 16:00 for under 24s. They provide Chlamydia testing, Contraception (of most kinds), STI testing (including HIV) as well as Support and advice. The iCASH website also has lots of helpful information on sexual health.
- Dhiverse – a Sexual Health Clinic
At an appointment or drop in, they offer HIV education, HIV testing, counselling and support/social groups for gay and bisexual men.
- Centre 33 – a Young People’s Centre
Mostly available for drop ins, they offer condoms, pregnancy testing, chlamydia & gonorrhoea testing as well as general support/advice with sexual health. You can also ask questions via phone or email.
- Terrence Higgins Trust – a Sexual Health Clinic
They have chlamydia screening for young people where you can order a chlamydia test for free online. They’re also offering free condoms by post to the Cambridgeshire area during the pandemic. Their website also has lots of information about sexual health, contraception and sex as a trans person.
- If you do want to source private, fee-paying advice and STI tests, then have a look here.
For additional information and advice you can: