Family, Relationships & Sex

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 Contraception

Contraception is essential to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to protect against sexually transmitted infections (“STIs”).

There's a wide range of contraceptive options, 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 – so you can get free condoms in loads of places around Bristol.

Many people use other methods of contraception too. These include the combined pill, coil/IUD, mini pill, contraceptive injection or implant. 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 ("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.

 Pregnancy

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:

  • a Just Ask adviser can provide free, confidential and impartial advice to students who are pregnant and any other student who is affected by a pregnancy
  • talk things over with a trusted friend or family member who knows you and your situation well
  • Marie Stopes have an on-line counselling tool, which may help you to understand your feelings towards your pregnancy

Be wary of searching online for pregnancy advice or counselling: some organisations who advertise “impartial” advice are actually strongly anti-abortion. They might tell you abortion is illegal or dangerous, or try to pressure you into continuing with your pregnancy even if you’re not sure that's the right decision for you. This is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can make it.

Ending a Pregnancy

For some students, having a baby just isn’t an option. If you decide to end your pregnancy, 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:

Continuing with a pregnancy

Having a baby as a student may seem like a completely overwhelming prospect, but it is possible. Here's the University's guidance for students having a child. 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 about how it will affect your studies.

Support available

  • The National Childbirth Trust (“NCT”) works with parents through pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood. They offer antenatal classes at a reduced rate for students. They have a Bristol branch.
  • Most students don’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (“SMP”). If you don’t qualify for SMP, you may qualify for Maternity Allowance. Check your eligibility by reading the Government’s guidance on benefits for expectant families (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.

Impact on studies

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.

After the birth

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

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).

Men’s rights and pregnancy

  • if a woman chooses to continue with a pregnancy, the father may be held financially responsible for the upbringing of their child (regardless of their relationship or the role he plays in the child’s life)
  • a woman may chose to have an abortion without her partner’s agreement
  • the biological father’s consent is not always required for an adoption.

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. 

 Sexual Health

Sex is great, but all the stuff that goes with it can be confusing. And sex is relatively new for many students. And with all the myths and conflicting information out there, it’s no wonder that sexual health can feel overwhelming. However, the message is simple: if you are having sex, make sure you’re having safe sex! 

Some tips to stay healthy:

  • use a condom!
  • if you do have unprotected sex, get yourself tested for STIs at a sexual health clinic
  • if you’re thinking about not using condoms with your partner, make sure you both get tested for STIs beforehand. Trust us, this could save a lot of arguments in the long-run.

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. The NHS have information about how to put a condom on properly.

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”). Terrance Higgins Trust has information about PEP. Some important points to note are:

  • PEP must be taken as soon as possible, and within 72 hours of unsafe sex or a condom not working
  • It isn’t guaranteed to work
  • PEP can have side effects; it involves taking anti-HIV drugs for a month
  • It’s no replacement for using condoms!

Most GPs won’t prescribe PEP, but you can often get it from sexual health clinics throughout Bristol. If you can’t get to one in time, you can try A&E (which is open 24 hours a day), but there is no guarantee that it will be prescribed for you there.

Getting tested

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. 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. Here's a list of sexual health clinics in Bristol. 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.

For more information on sexual health, call the Bristol Sexual Health helpline on 0117 342 6900 (open 9am - 5pm, charged at local rates).

If you have an STI

Your doctor will explain the medical side of things to you, but if you need additional support you can talk to one of these services:

  • Brook Advisory have a helpline you can call about pretty much anything that’s on your mind: 0808 802 1234.
  • The Terrence Higgins Trust can help anyone affected by HIV or AIDS in loads of different ways, from online counselling to group therapy sessions.
  • The University’s Counselling Service can support you in a range of ways with any problems, worries or thoughts you might be having.

 Break-ups

Breaking up with a partner is often a stressful and upsetting time. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, there is support out there. You can speak to:

  • your GP (who can also refer you to other sources of support if needed)
  • the University’s Counselling Service
  • your personal tutor
  • if you’re in halls, a Senior Resident
  • If it's affecting your studies, chat to a Just Ask Adviser

If the break-up affects... your studies

If your studies are affected, we strongly recommend you speak to your personal tutor so that the University is aware of the problems you’re having. If you think your performance is suffering, you should submit extenuating circumstances.


If the break-up affects... your money

If your partner has been supporting you, you will need to consider how you will continue to fund your studies and support yourself going forward.

You should speak to the Student Funding Office about the impact of your break up on your student funding. You can also ask them about additional support which may be available from the Access to Learning Fund.

You will probably need to inform some (or all) of the following organisations about your new status/arrangements. They will be able to tell you what to do next:

  • your gas, electricity, water and any other utility (internet, phone, etc) companies
  • your landlord or letting agent
  • your mortgage lender
  • your bank or building society (if you have a joint account)
  • your council tax office
  • any hire purchase or credit companies you have accounts with
  • your benefits office
  • insurance companies (especially if you have joint policies)

If the break-up affects... your home

If you have been living together, your options are:

  • you stay put and your partner moves out
  • you move out and your partner stays in your house
  • you both move out and find new places to live
  • you stay living together, just not as a couple

It’s incredibly difficult to keep living together after breaking up, so the chances are that at least one of you will have to move out. If you live in private rented accommodation, you can speak to the University’s Accommodation Officeabout leaving your tenancy early. If you (or your partner) own your home, things can get tricky. If this is your situation, we recommend taking at least one of the following steps:

Shelter have a really useful guide to housing issues following a break up, here. You can also come and speak to a Just Ask adviser during any part of the process.


If the break-up affects... your children

You and your partner will need to decide how your children will be looked after going forward, and where they will live. Government advice on how to prepare children for separation, and next steps if you are separating, is available here.

You will need to arrange child maintenance. You and your partner might be able to arrange this between you. If you can’t come to an agreement you can ask the Child Support Agency (“CSA”) or the courts to make arrangements for you. You can apply to the CSA here. If you need help completing the forms, or would like to discuss the process, a Just Ask adviser can support you.


If the break-up affects... your marriage or civil partnership

If you are married, you will need to get a divorce in order to dissolve the marriage. The Government has a useful guide to divorce here.

Most people worry about the expense and complexity of getting a divorce, but it is possible to do without instructing solicitors (see here for more details). If you decide that you do need legal representation, you may be eligible for Legal Aid. The gov.uk website  can tell you whether or not you are eligible for Legal Aid.

The process for dissolving a civil partnership is slightly different to divorce. The Government guide is here. If you need assistance filling out any of the forms required, a Just Ask adviser can support you.