Photo of two pairs of legs intertwined under the covers.

In the heat of the moment, practicing safer sex habits might not be the first thing on your mind. Here are some things to do after having unprotected sex.

1. Urinate after sex

Sex can increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI). This is because bacteria naturally found on skin can enter your urethra (where your pee comes out) during sex. Peeing shortly after sex can help flush these types of bacteria out of your system. Keep in mind that those with vaginas  are more likely to develop a UTI.

Common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling the need to urinate, even when your bladder is empty
  • Bloody urine
  • Pressure or cramping along the groin or lower abdomen

If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with Medical Services or another healthcare provider to get treated with antibiotics. Most UTIs begin to clear up within a few days of starting treatment.

2. Explore emergency contraceptives if needed

There are two different types of emergency contraception available. Check below for more information about each type.

Ella (ulipristal acetate)

Ella prevents pregnancy up to five days after sex and is recommended as the first choice for emergency contraception. It’s more effective than other morning-after pills (like Plan B), but you need a prescription to get it.

  • Take within: 5 days (120 hours)
  • Weight limit: 195 pounds*
  • Prescription: Required

*Note: Ella may not be effective if you are above this weight. See the next section for information on IUD options.

Plan B (levonorgestrel)

Plan B and other levonorgestrel morning-after pills can lower your chances of getting pregnant by 75 to 89 percent. You can take this type of pill up to five days after unprotected sex, but it’s better to take it sooner because it can become less effective the longer you wait.

  • Take within: 3 to 5 days (72 to 120 hours)
  • Weight limit: 165 pounds*
  • Prescription: Not required

*Note: Levonorgestrel pills may not be effective if you are above this weight. See the next section for information on IUD options.

Medical Services offers consultation appointments to help you explore your options. If you aren’t able to see a healthcare provider in time, you can still buy emergency contraception at the Apothecary Pharmacy in Wardenburg or other local pharmacies without a prescription if you are over the age of 17. Just keep in mind that it can be more expensive over the counter. Your or your partner can also purchase any form of emergency contraception to keep on hand. Just be sure to monitor the expiration date to ensure that it is still effective.

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

Alternatively, intrauterine devices (IUDs) can be used to prevent pregnancy if applied within five days (120 hours) of unprotected sex. Copper IUDs don’t use hormones, are considered 99% effective at preventing pregnancy and can provide protection for up to 12 years. Copper IUDs are especially recommended for women who are above the weight limit for emergency contraceptive pills, because they have been shown to be less effective for women at or above the advertised weight limits.

The Sexual and Reproductive Health team at Medical Services can help you explore a variety of birth control options, including different types of IUDs. Call the clinic at 303-492-5432 to discuss or schedule an urgent visit.

3. Get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections, also known as STIs, are infections that pass from one person to another through sexual activities, including oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex, genital contact or sexual fluids like semen. These types of infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.

It’s a good idea for you and your partner(s) to get tested two weeks after having unprotected sex, especially if you’re not in an exclusive relationship. If you’re concerned that you may have been exposed to an STI, it’s important to remember that it can take time before it becomes active in your body. Testing too soon can cause you to get inaccurate results.  If you know your partner has tested positive for gonorrhea or chlamydia, you should be treated for exposure right away.

In general it’s best to follow these guidelines for testing:

  • HIV: Get tested after 23 to 90 days (nPEP is available by prescription within 72 hours of unprotected sex and can decrease the risk of HIV aquisition.)
  • Chlamydia: Get tested after 5 days to 2 weeks
  • Gonorrhea: Get tested after 5 days to 2 weeks
  • Syphilis: Get tested after 2 to 3 weeks

If you’re experiencing any symptoms, such as itching, burning or pain, get tested right away. Medical Services provides STI screening appointments and drop-in testing options.  

Learn more about routine screening guidelines

 Important: 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.

4. Take a pregnancy test if needed

If you’re concerned about an unplanned pregnancy after unprotected sex, it’s typically best to wait about three weeks before taking a pregnancy test. This will give your body enough time to develop the hormone that pregnancy tests rely on. You can schedule an appointment to do a pregnancy test at Medical Services, or you can purchase an at-home test at any pharmacy or supermarket. 

Finding out you are pregnant when you didn’t expect it can be a stressful experience. Deciding what you want to do about an unplanned pregnancy is a deeply personal experience, and everyone’s situation is different. Talking with your partner, a trusted friend or family member, a healthcare provider or a counselor can help you better understand your options and figure out what to do. Medical Services is here to provide accurate, non-judgmental information about your options and answer your questions. They also have mental health specialists on hand to help support you throughout the decision and appointment process.

5. Prepare for next time

While many of us have intentions to practice safer sex, it can be hard to do in the moment, especially if we don’t feel prepared. Here are some things you can do to feel more prepared and protected in the future.

  • Explore barrier methods
    Using barriers during sex and foreplay can help protect you and your partner(s) against STIs. Barrier options include things like external condoms, internal condoms and dental dams (for oral sex). When using barriers, make sure they are not expired or damaged. Using a personal lubricant can decrease friction during sex, which can help improve overall pleasure and reduce the risk of tearing sensitive tissues, which can aid the transmission of STIs.
  • Explore birth control options as needed
    If you’re concerned about an unplanned pregnancy, consider taking some time to explore birth control options. Medical Services is available for birth control consultations to walk you through short- and long-term options, potential side effects and application.
  • Keep emergency contraception on hand.
    You can get a prescription or pick up emergency contraception at the pharmacy to keep on hand. Just be sure to monitor the expiration date to ensure it is still effective before you take it.
  • Consult with a sexual health provider
    Scheduling a visit with a sexual and reproductive health provider can  help you learn how your body works and identify problems early. They can also discuss screening for STIs, birth control methods help you learn more about healthy sexual relationships.
  • Screen for STIs regularly
    It’s important to get tested for STIs at least once per year. If you have multiple partners or switch partners, it’s important to get tested before you start having oral, vaginal or anal sex. It’s also important to discuss your results with your partner, so that you can both receive treatment as needed.
  • Take preventative measures
    Did you know that there are vaccines and medications that can help prevent the spread of certain STIs? Vaccines are available for HPV and hepatitis, which are strongly recommended for all college-aged adults. You can also learn more about preventative medications like Truvada (PrEP), which can help prevent the transmission of HIV.

If you need additional support, there are resources on campus that can help.

6. Connect with campus resources

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 assault using any of the methods listed above. Additionally, 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

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, hormone therapy, infection treatment and more. 

STI testing

Students can schedule an in-person or telehealth 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 on the first floor outside of the Sexual and Reproductive Health office. 

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.

Apothecary Pharmacy

The Apothecary Pharmacy at Wardenburg Health Center provides prescription medications and over-the-counter products, including emergency contraception, condoms, pregnancy tests and more. 

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.

Support for international students, staff and faculty

Individuals who have experienced certain crimes, such as sexual assault or domestic violence, may be eligible for U.S. immigration relief through the U visa or VAWA self-petition, regardless of their immigration status. Please speak with an immigration attorney or a non-profit organization that assists immigrants to learn more about the eligibility requirements, application process, and timeline. Learn more about free or low-cost legal immigration services.