Sexual health photoCollege can be a great time to learn about sexual health, how to care for yourself and have healthy, pleasurable sex. Here are nine things you can do to take care of your sexual health in college (and beyond). 

1. Schedule an annual wellness visit  

Young adults are encouraged to start attending annual wellness visits. During these appointments, providers will track baseline health information, screen for cancer and treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if needed. They may also review your medical history, 

take your blood pressure and screen for mental health concerns, like depression or anxiety. 

These exams may also include sex-specific evaluations, such as: 

  • Breast or chest exam: Your provider may visually examine and use their hands to palpate your breasts or chest. They are looking for irregularities that may indicate breast cancer.  
  • Pelvic exam: Your provider may visually inspect your external genitalia for signs of infection. They may use their hands to check for abnormal lumps or bumps, internally or externally. If you have a cervix, your provider may also insert a metal speculum in your vagina and collect some internal cells with a long q-tip. This sample is then tested for any abnormalities that may indicate the development of cancer.  

We encourage you to work with your provider to determine which screenings feel right for you. You can also set boundaries with your provider and communicate ways they can help keep you comfortable. Here are some examples of questions you can ask your provider: 

  • “Can you please describe what you’re going to do before each step?” 
  • “Will you wait for me to tell you it’s okay before you touch each new part of my body?” 
  • “Can I bring a friend or have a second medical professional in the room while we do the exam?” 

Students can schedule annual wellness visits and preventative care through Medical Services. Most health insurance plans will cover an annual wellness visit once per year, though additional charges may occur if specific concerns are addressed during that visit.   

2. Consider vaccines or medications for STI prevention 

Did you know there are vaccines and other medications that can help reduce your chances of contracting or spreading infections that can be transmitted sexually? 

Vaccines are available for:

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Some forms of HPV can cause genital warts, while others can lead to cervical cancer. 
  • Hepatitis A (HAV) and Hepatitis B (HBV): HAV and HVB can cause a liver infection that can lead to short-term illness or longer-term health issues, including liver cancer. 
  • Meningococcal B (meningitis): Meningitis is an inflammatory infection that causes swelling to the brain and spinal cord, which can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention. 
  • Mpox: Mpox is a rare infection that can cause symptoms similar to, but less severe than, smallpox. This vaccine is only available to those who meet specific criteria. 

Oral medications are available for:

  • HIV: Medications are available to help prevent HIV for high-risk individuals before and after exposure from sex or intravenous drug use. These medications are only available to those who meet specific criteria. 
  • Syphilis, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea: Antibacterial medications are available to help prevent active infections for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, which can lead to long-term health complications like nervous system damage, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and more. 

Talk with your provider to determine which vaccines or medications may be right for you. 

Vaccines available at Medical Services

3. Explore what sex means to you 

For many students, college provides an opportunity to learn about and explore sexual relationships. Choosing whether to have sex is your decision, and it is important to think through what you want before engaging in sexual activities.  

Take some time to think about your values, preferences and boundaries when it comes to sex. For instance, you may explore your beliefs around the type of touch you want, how you feel about non-sober sex, unplanned pregnancy, porn and erotica, safer sex practices and boundaries you want to have with sexual partners.  

Check out our free Sex Ed Workbook to start exploring! 

Download the Sex Ed Workbook

4. Get to know your body 

Whether you’re sexually active or not, taking time to learn about your unique body, cues, boundaries and desire can help you understand what you want and what feels good.  

Here are some ways you can explore your body and desire through fantasy, solo sex and partnered sex: 

  • Exploring how your body responds to erotica, watching porn or fantasizing 
  • Noticing how pace, pressure and location can shift the way it feels to be touched 
  • Paying attention to what parts of your body you are self-conscious about and leaning into self-compassion 
  • Staying open to the possibility that sensations may feel different day-to-day or partner-to-partner 

Physical sensations can impact how you experience pleasure, safety, discomfort and distress. Working to get more in tune with your body means you have a better chance of what feels good for you.  

For many reasons, getting in touch with our bodies can be difficult. Go at your own pace and take it slow if you need to. As you get more comfortable with the sensations of your body (and mind), you may feel more equipped to tell or show your partner(s) what feels good for you. Being able to advocate for yourself in this way can help you set boundaries, ask for what you want and have more pleasurable sexual experiences. 

5. Talk about sex with your partner(s) 

Talking with your partner(s) about sex can help you have a better experience before, during and after. Here are a few things you should consider discussing: 

Defining expectations: Discussing expectations can help you understand your shared values and perspectives around relationships and sex. Try your best to be clear about whether you want casual sex, something exclusive, a committed relationship or something else.  

Setting boundaries: Discussing boundaries can help you and your partner(s) identify what kinds of activities are off-limits (for the time being). You can also use this opportunity to discuss things you are interested in doing or trying as well as things you may be neutral about. Keep in mind that your partner may not be willing or interested in doing things that you’re ‘into’ and vice versa, and that’s okay. 

Defining sex: It’s common for people to define sex differently. For instance, some people may define ‘sex’ as vaginal penetration only. Others may define it as anything involving genital touching or other forms of penetration, including oral sex. That’s why it’s important to be explicit with your partner about how you both define sex to ensure you have an understanding of where each person is coming from.  

Learning to advocate for your own pleasure: We can’t expect people to read our minds, just like we can’t expect them to know what feels good for us. That’s why it’s important for partners to share what feels good (and what doesn’t) and listen to each other. When you start engaging in sexual behaviors, try to tell or show your partner what feels good for you and ask them to do the same. Keep in mind that some people may not want ‘feedback’ on their performance, so it may be helpful to discuss the best way to tell a partner or show them what you’d like and vice versa. Advocating for your pleasure can be challenging for many people and it can take time to become comfortable openly discussing sex with your partner(s). It may not always work out the way you want, but it’s critical that partners can listen to and respect what each other wants without pushing anyone past what they’re comfortable with. 

6. Explore birth control options 

If you’re concerned about the risks of an unplanned pregnancy, consider taking some time to explore birth control options.  

For individuals who can get pregnant, birth control comes in a variety of forms, including pills, implants, vaginal rings, patches, injections and more. Medical Services is available for birth control consultations to walk you through short- and long-term options, potential side effects and application.  

Consider talking with your partner about what protection works best and how much risk you each are willing to take when it comes to unprotected sex or unplanned pregnancy. 

Talk with your partner(s) about the risk of pregnancy and which type of protection may work best for you. This can include hormonal birth control, copper-based birth control or condoms. Keep in mind that birth control does not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  

If you or your partner are concerned about unplanned pregnancy after unprotected sex, you can use emergency contraceptives like Plan B or Ella. You can also pick up or purchase emergency contraceptives to keep on hand before sex. Just be sure to monitor the expiration date to ensure it is still effective. 

Emergency contraceptives are available for free at the Apothecary Pharmacy in Wardenburg Health Center. They are also available for purchase at other local pharmacies with or without a prescription. 

Please note: Emergency contraception is a safe and effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception will not cause an abortion.

7. Use barriers 

While contraceptives and birth control can help prevent pregnancy, they do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.  

Using physical barriers during sex and foreplay can help protect you and your partner(s) against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This can include things like external condoms, internal condoms and dental dams (for oral sex). These types of barriers are intended to reduce your contact with bodily fluids, which can spread STIs. For the best protection, it’s important to use a barrier every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex. 

When using barriers, make sure they’re not expired or damaged. Using a water- or silicone-based lubricant can also help decrease friction during sex. Less friction can help improve overall pleasure while reducing the risk of tearing sensitive tissues, which can increase your risk for STI transmission. 

Students can pick up free safer sex supplies, including lubricant and barriers, by visiting Wardenburg or by ordering a Buff Box for delivery to your residence hall. Supplies are located on the first floor in the Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic as well as on the third floor in the Wellness Suite

Learn about barriers and how to use them

8. Get tested 

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) include any infection that can pass from one person to another through sexual activities, including oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex, genital contact or sexual fluids, like semen. These infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. 

Here are some tips for getting tested: 

General recommendations: If you are sexually active, it is recommended that you get tested one to four times per year. Your medical provider can work with you to figure out the best frequency depending on your history, risk and other factors. 

Your partner has tested positive: If you know your partner has tested positive for an STI, you should connect with a medical provider right away. You may be eligible for prophylaxis, which can reduce the chances of contracting certain infections. You can also receive immediate treatment for STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. 

You are experiencing symptoms: If you are experiencing symptoms like itching, burning, or pain, contact a medical provider about testing options. 

You have no symptoms but are concerned about exposure: If you’re concerned that you may have been exposed to an STI but are not experiencing any symptoms, you may want to wait a few weeks before testing. Consulting with a medical provider can help you determine appropriate testing options, timing and treatment options. 

Medical Services provides STI screening appointments and drop-in testing options for students. 

Please note: The most common symptom of an STI is no symptoms at all. Getting tested even if you don’t have symptoms can help protect you from developing complications and protect your future partners from infection. 

Learn more about screening guidelines

9. Connect with campus resources 

Health and Wellness Services offers a variety of services to help students address their sexual health. 

Sexual and reproductive health

Medical Services providers are here to support all CU Boulder students learn about their bodies and take care of their sexual and reproductive health. Services include health exams, birth control, gynecological services, HPV vaccines, HIV prevention, pregnancy testing, gender-affirming hormone therapy, infection treatment and more.

STI testing

Students can schedule an in-person appointment to get testing recommendations, review results or order STI tests from the lab. Drop-in testing is also available at the lab in Wardenburg Health Center.

Safer sex supplies

Students living on campus can order a free Buff Box that includes supplies and information about safer sex, such as condoms, lube, finger cots, dental dams and tips for communicating with partners.  

Students living off campus can stop by Wardenburg Health Center to pick up free safer sex supplies on the third floor in the Wellness Suite and the first floor outside of the Sexual and Reproductive Health office.

Apothecary pharmacy

The Apothecary pharmacy provides prescription medications and over-the-counter products, including emergency contraception, condoms, pregnancy tests and more.  

Unprotected sex

In the heat of the moment, practicing safer sex habits might not be the first thing on your mind. Learn what you should do after having unprotected sex. 

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term, trauma-focused counseling services for students, grad students, faculty and staff who have experienced a traumatic, disturbing or life-disruptive event, including, but not limited to, sexual assault, intimate partner abuse and harassment. 

Let’s Talk

Let’s Talk is a free service where CU Boulder students can check in for an informal, brief and confidential consultation with a counselor or psychiatrist. Let’s Talk provides a special hour on Tuesdays for sex and gender topics. This service is a great way to get connected with a mental health provider to talk through resources, get support and talk through your concerns. 

Behavioral Health

Medical Services has licensed behavioral health professionals on staff to help you with everything from managing stress, getting connected with resources or finding ongoing mental health care. They are available to anyone who has an appointment at Medical Services and can be seen by request during your appointment. 

Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC)

OIEC implements and enforces university policies around sexual assault, intimate partner abuse and stalking, and other forms of sexual misconduct. If you or someone you know at CU has been impacted, reports can be filed online. Anonymously reporting is an option as well. 

Recognizing sexual assault 

Sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual contact or behaviors that a person did not or was not able to consent to.  

Sexual assault can include, but is not limited to, the following: 

  • Unwanted penetration or contact, including vaginal, anal or oral sex (this includes penetration by an object or another person’s body part) 
  • Unwanted touching of private body parts (e.g., butt, breasts, genitals)  

Keep in mind that sexual assault can also include attempted sexual activity without consent. Someone going beyond what was agreed upon without further consent is also sexual assault. For instance, if you consent to sex with a condom and your partner doesn’t use one, that is not consent. This practice is often referred to as “stealthing.” 

Learn more about sexual assault and available resources