By Di Daniels
Don’t get me wrong, the first week of university is an exciting time and you should be taking advantage of every opportunity to let loose and indulge in your adventurous side—in between the sheets, and otherwise.
With that being said, now that you’re outside of the giant safety net that is your parents’ supervision, you should be taking a few extra precautions to make sure that your transition into the world of sex wherever, whenever, is a safe one.
Now, none of the points I’m about to bring up are anything new or groundbreaking, but the following tips are worth keeping in mind. -Di Daniels
The golden rule of consent
Sex can be an exciting, amazing experience—but never without consent from both parties. The definition of consent is something you must know if you are sexually active or plan to take your first steps into the experience. Consent involves a variety of factors, and it’s important to be well-versed in all of them.
Consent means that both parties have made an enthusiastic, direct, voluntary, unimpaired, and conscious agreement to engage in sexual activities of any kind. Consent cannot be given if either party is impaired by any kind of drug. You cannot use your own intoxication as an excuse for carrying out actions of sexual violence—your “I was so drunk I can’t remember a thing” excuse might get you out of other unpleasant scenarios during 101 Week, but consent for sexual activities is NOT one of them.
You cannot assume the person has said yes because they haven’t said no. You cannot receive consent from a person who is asleep or impaired in any way. Consent can never, ever be given under threat from the requesting party, or if the person is in a position of authority over the person being asked.
Even if you’ve stripped down and teased each other for an hour, if your partner decides they don’t want to participate at ANY point, you must respect that their consent can be revoked at any given time during the activity.
You can find a more extensive definition of “consent” in the University of Ottawa’s new sexual assault policy.
“No” does not mean “I want to be convinced”. “No” does not mean “I’m playing hard to get”. “No” means nothing else but “no”, and the golden rule of all sexual relations is that you must always respect this.
Make safer sex a routine
It’s probably not new information that you should use some form of birth control during any erotic encounters, but even though methods like the pill or an IUD can prevent an unwanted pregnancy, these commonly used contraceptives do not protect you against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI).
In this light, it’s important to always, always use a condom. Some people don’t disclose or just don’t know that they have an STI, so it’s essential that you put yourself first and use protection. But even these best-laid plans can fail if you don’t use a water-based lube with the condom, as oil-based lube can cause breakage.
If walking into a store and buying condoms over the counter isn’t your thing, go online at Sex It Smart and order free condoms—they literally deliver right to your door, and for those with allergies they also offer latex-free order options. You can also pick some up for free at the U of O’s Health Services.
Not all tests happen in the classroom
After a raunchy week in your new residence, you find yourself itchy, bumpy, or just plain uncomfortable down below. What to do? First of all, try not to feel ashamed about it. The stigma around STIs and other genital infections is still strong on campus, but the reality is that the rates among university students have proven to be on the rise—you are NOT alone in your experience. Even if it feels shameful to do it, it’s important to go see a doctor if you have symptoms and get tested for STIs.
Even if you don’t feel unusual, it’s worth noting that some STIs can lay dormant and cause no symptoms for a period of time, so it’s always a good idea to get checked out on the regular once you become sexually active.
Not sure where to go to discuss your concerns? Lucky for you, the University of Ottawa offers a walk-in clinic, as well as appointments with family doctors, so that you won’t have to go far to get tested. You can also get free and confidential STI testing done at the City of Ottawa’s Sexual Health Centre.
If your 101 Week leaves you feeling uncertain, scared, or anxious about your sex life or sexuality, please seek support—our campus offers so much of it, right at your fingertips.
Student Academic Success Service’s free counselling and coaching service offers counsellors that will help guide you through any turbulence your transition to university may bring. The Women’s Resource Centre offers peer support and guidance from a feminist perspective, as well as free safer sex supplies. The Pride Centre offers drop-in services that provide members of the LGBTQ+ community with a safe space to share experiences with like-minded peers, as well as a service that provides training to those outside of the community on how to become a better ally
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By now, most parents likely know that not talking about sex with their teens will not stop them from doing it. And, as a parent, you might even have done some reading on how to have The Talk with your kids. Maybe you think you’ve done everything right when it comes to having important conversations with your teen. Or maybe you’ve been avoiding the discussion because you’re not sure where to start.
No matter which category you fit into, you may still find yourself as the parent whose kid comes home and tells them they think they might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or that they have contracted an STI. The way you respond to that bombshell can make all the difference for your child going forward — in their relationship with you, with future partners, and with themselves. “Often, the response of the people that you confide in when you first have a diagnosis shapes how you see your condition from then on out,” says Myisha Battle, a San Francisco-based sex coach. “It’s important that parents have a response that can potentially produce a positive outcome for kids when they’re disclosing.”
That, of course, is easier said than done. Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen, a sex ed web site for youth, and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, says that the groundwork for a positive response begins before your child ever receives a diagnosis. In fact, the way you talk about STIs from the beginning may determine whether your child even comes to you if they’re worried about their sexual health. And that, says Corinna, includes things like not talking about any infectious illness in a stigmatized way. “The closer we get to people, the more susceptible we are to infections,” Corinna explains. So if you wouldn’t talk about getting the chicken pox or a cold from someone as something gross, you shouldn’t talk about STIs that way, either. “When STIs come up in media or if people make a stigmatizing joke, correct it,” Corinna says. “Also important is not assigning value to people who do or don’t have an STI.”
And, no matter how many safer sex conversations you have (or haven’t) had with your kid, even people who do everything right can contract an STI. “STIs can happen even if you use protection and get tested,” says Ella Dawson, a writer who was diagnosed with herpes at 20. According to the CDC, nearly all sexually active people will contract HPV in their lifetime; two in three people worldwide have herpes simplex I and half of new infections are genital. The CDC considers both chlamydia and gonorrhea to be common infections. But, as Corinna points out, “The tricky thing is that when we talk about STIs, we’re talking about easily treatable illnesses like chlamydia versus [something like] HIV.”
Something else that might affect how involved a parent is or needs to be is how a young person contracted their STI in the first place. Often, STIs are contracted during consensual sexual interactions, but they can also be contracted during abuse or an assault. Corinna says that the biggest concern that they hear at Scarleteen from teens who have STIs is that their parents or caregivers will be disappointed in them. But, more serious than that, are fears that they may be kicked out of their house for having sex. Or, “if it happens in a wanted or ongoing relationship,” says Corinna, “there is the fear that their parents will punish them by refusing to let them see the person anymore.” All of these things may prevent a young person from disclosing their status to their parent or caregiver, or to avoid seeking medical attention all together.
“Teens with STIs need two things,” says Dawson. Those things are “access to medical care, and support. Make sure that your child has gotten a quality diagnosis from a medical professional, and also make sure that they are being treated with respect by their physician,” she says. Then, bombard them with unconditional love and support. It’s also important to do what you can to avoid adding to the shame and stigma your child might already be feeling. “Believe me, they don’t need you to confirm their own feelings of shame and regret,” Dawson warns.
Of course, it’s normal for parents to panic when their kid comes to them with an unexpected revelation like an STI diagnosis, but “it’s important to keep that freak out away from your kid,” says Battle. Corinna encourages parents to put aside their emotional reaction and get themselves educated so they can best help the young person in their lives. “If you’re in denial about [your] young person having sex, try to move past it and help them with what they need. If it’s about you controlling their health care and not giving them access, fix that,” Corinna says. “If you didn’t have conversations about what it means to be sexual with someone else, it’s time to have this conversation.”
Everyone agrees that the best way to be helpful as a parent is to take your lead from your child. “If they are upset, validate that. If they don’t feel bad about it, don’t make it a big deal,” suggests Corinna. Demonizing the transmitter, especially if that person is a partner, is not a helpful tactic and may alienate your child. Also not helpful? Trying to implement behavior modifications that same day, like taking them immediately to buy condoms, because it may feel like blaming. Also, going behind the young person’s back and calling their healthcare provider or their partner or telling a co-parent without getting explicit permission are surefire ways to lose a teen’s trust.
If your child isn’t sure what their diagnosis means, it can be a great time to get educated together. If they’re unsure if they might have an STI, “ask, ‘What are your symptoms? Let’s go to trusted website and find out what next steps should be.’ Or if it’s a diagnosis, it’s still an opportunity to sit down and ask what they learned at the doctor and what they know, so you can understand the next steps,” says Battle. Check out the resources on Scarleteen, the CDC’s website, or the American Social Health Association.
If you haven’t had great sex education yourself, learn along with your teen. After there is some distance, you can initiate another conversation about safer sex and make sure your teen has access to the appropriate supplies to help them avoid an STI in the future.
At the end of the day, what’s most important is letting your child know that an STI does not change the way you see them. This “does not mean your child has erred, ruined their future, or shown their true, negative character. Anyone can get an STI, even if you’re on the Dean’s list,” says Dawson. “What’s really important is that your kid is having a respectful, consensual and healthy sex life.”
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