Sex is great, but all the stuff that goes with it can be confusing. Whether or not you were having sex before you came to University, it is relatively new for many students. If you add all the myths and conflicting information out there, it’s no wonder that looking at sexual health can feel overwhelming. Just Ask is here to give you straightforward, impartial advice and information.
The message is simple: if you are having sex, make sure you’re having safe sex!
Contraception is essential to prevent unwanted pregnancy and also to protect you against sexually transmitted infections (“STIs”).
There is a wide range of contraceptive options out there, but condoms are the only method of contraception which offers protection from STIs (including HIV). You can get free condoms from the Student Health Service, or the Bristol Sexual Health Services. If you are under 25, you can register for a C-Card – this entitles you to free condoms in loads of places around Bristol.
Many people use alternative methods of contraception as well as, or instead of, condoms. These include the combined pill, coil/IUD, mini pill, contraceptive injection or implant. Which is the best method for you will depend on a number of personal factors, we recommend speaking to the Student Health Service or your GP to discuss this.
No method of contraception is 100% effective, and accidents (split condoms, missed pills...) do happen. Emergency contraception can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to avoid unwanted pregnancy. You can get emergency contraception (sometimes called the “morning after pill”) from the Student Health Service, or over the counter from most pharmacies (though you may have to pay for it if you are over 25). If you need emergency contraception, you should act quickly: it is most effective in the first 24 hours after unprotected sex.
If you think you might be pregnant, the first step is to find out for sure. You can get a free pregnancy test at the Student Health Service, or you can buy a home pregnancy test at most pharmacies. You can do most pregnancy tests anytime from the date your last period was due.
If you are pregnant, the next step is to decide whether to continue with your pregnancy or to end it. Unplanned pregnancies, and the mixed feelings they can generate, can be really confusing and stressful. But there are sources of help available:
Be wary of searching online, or in the Yellow Pages, for pregnancy advice or counselling: some organisations who advertise “impartial” advice are actually strongly anti-abortion. These organisations may tell you that abortion is illegal or dangerous, or attempt to intimidate you into continuing with your pregnancy even if you’re not sure that is the right decision for you.
This is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can make it.
For some students, having a baby just isn’t an option. If you decide to end your pregnancy, it’s important that you seek support as soon as possible.
Your GP is usually a good person to talk to first, but you can also get a referral for an abortion through the following channels:
Education for Choice is a charity campaigning for the provision of accurate and good quality information about abortion to young people. Their website contains lots of impartial support and information about abortion. Don’t forget that you can speak to a Just Ask adviser at any point during the process.
Having a baby as a student may seem like a completely overwhelming prospect, but it is possible. The University's guidance for students having a child is here. If you don’t feel able to raise a child, but don’t feel that you can end your pregnancy, adoption is a further option. Don’t forget that you can speak to a Just Ask adviser at any point during either process.
The National Childbirth Trust (“NCT”) is a charity which works with parents through pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood. They offer antenatal classes at a reduced rate for students. Contact details for the Bristol branch can be found here: http://www.nct.org.uk/branches/bristol.
Most students don’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (“SMP”). To qualify for SMP, you must have been employed by the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week your baby, and meet certain earnings thresholds. If you don’t qualify for SMP, you may qualify for Maternity Allowance (you must have been employed and/or self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks up to and including the week before the week your baby is due, and meet certain earnings thresholds). The Government’s guidance on benefits for expectant families is here.
You may be entitled to a Sure Start Maternity Grant, which is a one-off payment designed to help with maternity and baby items.
The University allows students to suspend their studies in certain situations. The precise procedure and criteria for this varies from faculty to faculty and depends on whether you are a postgraduate or undergraduate student. This information should be in your course handbook, but if you are unsure of what to do you can speak to a Just Ask adviser, who can help you through the process.
We strongly recommend that you speak to the Student Funding Office to discuss the funding implications of suspending your studies.
The Government publishes up to date information about the benefits and financial assistance available to students with children here.
The University has an excellent day nursery, which accepts children from three months old. Places are limited, and the waiting list can be long, so try to apply for a place as soon as possible.
Keep in contact with the University whilst you are away, if you have suspended your studies. If you need any help readjusting to study on your return to University, speak to your personal tutor or a Just Ask adviser.
Student Parents is a great website offering tips and advice on how to juggle being a mum or dad with being a student. You could also join UBU's student parents' network - a great way to meet other students with children in a child-friendly and social atmosphere.
Adoption means giving your baby new legal parents. Once an adoption order is made, it cannot be undone. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering is a national charity offering support through adoption. They can advise you who to contact in the local area (whether that’s Bristol, or the place where you choose to give birth).
If you would like more information about this, please speak to a Just Ask adviser. Of course men do have the right to avoid unplanned pregnancies, either by not having sex or by using condoms.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (“STIs”) can be passed on through a variety of sexual activities. Symptoms vary from person to person, and some may have no noticeable symptoms at all.
Condoms are the only method of contraception capable of preventing STIs, provided they’re used properly. If you’re not sure how to put a condom on properly, you can remind yourself here.
Some tips to stay healthy:
If you are worried that you may have been exposed to HIV, there is treatment available to stop you becoming infected. This is called post-exposure prophylaxis (“PEP”). Specific information is available here, but some important points to note are:
Most GPs won’t prescribe PEP, but you can get it (provided you meet the criteria) from sexual health clinics throughout Bristol. If you can’t get to one in time, you can try A&E (which has the advantage of being open 24 hours a day), but there is no guarantee that it will be prescribed for you there.
If you think you may have an STI, or could have been infected (whether or not you have any symptoms), it’s important to get tested by a medical professional. Despite all the cliches and stereotypes, sexual health testing is actually quick and painless.
The Student Health Service is also a specialist sexual health clinic, and can test for a variety of STIs, including (but not limited to) HIV, Hepatitis, Gonnorhoea and Chlamydia. Their services are completely confidential.
You can also get tested at any other sexual health clinic. Details of sexual health clinics throughout Bristol can be found here. Certain clinics offer walk-in services, which are good if you want to be seen urgently, or don’t want to have to make an appointment.
If you would like further information on sexual health, you can call the Bristol Sexual Health helpline on 0117 342 6900. The helpline is open from 9am til 5pm and is charged at local rates.
Your doctor will explain the medical side of things to you, but if you need additional support there are a number of organisations you can talk to. And don’t forget that you can speak to a Just Ask adviser about anything!
Brook Advisory have a helpline you can call about pretty much anything that’s on your mind: 0808 802 1234.