Sexuality is a wide-ranging category that includes our bodies, our hormones, our feelings, relationships, identities, our intellect, our social connections, and our faith and values. It includes sexual pleasure, the boundaries we set for ourselves, and the experiences that we seek out. It is also about how we stay healthy, and how we express romantic love and sexual attraction. It is about if and when we chose to engage in sexual behavior. It is about all of these things and more.
What is a healthy relationship?
Healthy relationships, whether they are dating relationships or friendships, have several key components:
Physical touch and affection that is mutually agreed upon and enjoyable
What is consent? How do I know if someone has consented to a sexual behavior or not?
Consent is an ongoing process that is active, mutual, and not compromised by alcohol or drug use. It involves willingly and freely deciding and negotiating sex of any kind. It’s a shared responsibility for everyone who wants to engage in any kind of sexual interaction with someone. When there is a question or invitation, consent has only been mutually given or affirmed when the answer, by everyone, is a clear and enthusiastic yes.
According to the World Health Organization, sexual violence is “a serious public health and human rights problem with both short- and long-term consequences on [a person’s] physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health. Whether sexual violence occurs in the context of an intimate partnership, within the larger family or community structure, or during times of conflict, it is a deeply violating and painful experience for the survivor.”
Examples of sexual violence include:
Rape or sexual assault
Child sexual assault or incest
Relationship or dating violence
Unwanted sexual contact/touching
Showing one’s genitals or naked body to other(s) without consent
Watching or filming someone’s private areas without their permission.
How can I protect myself from unplanned pregnancy? Where can I get emergency contraception?
There are many ways to protect yourself from pregnancy. Methods of contraception are available in three basic types: chemical (solutions which kill sperm), hormonal (medications that change the hormone levels so that a person does not ovulate), and barrier (a physical barrier that prevents sperm from reaching an egg). Abstinence is a method of prevention of pregnancy that involves not engaging in any behavior from which someone could become pregnant.
Spermicidal cream, jelly, or gel
Birth control pills
Depo-Provera (an injection)
Some intrauterine devices (IUDs)
Internal (female) condoms
External (male) condoms
Understanding what kind of birth control you are looking for is important. There are many different kinds, and it can feel overwhelming to pick one. Things to consider when deciding can include cost, prescription coverage, how the method works, allergies to materials (for instance, latex allergies), if the method offers protection from STIs, how effective it is, and if it is a method that can be used consistently and correctly.
Amherst students have access to external and internal condoms and lube at various locations on campus including Health Services, Health Education, and the Resource Centers. Condoms are also available from some resident counselors (RCs).
Emergency contraception (EC) can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex or a sexual assault to reduce the likelihood of becoming pregnant. EC is available at Health Services with a prescription and at the Women’s and Gender Center.
How can I prevent STIs and where can I get tested?
People of all identities can contract an STI. Participating in oral, anal, or vaginal sex can put a person at risk for contracting (getting it yourself) or transmitting (giving it to someone else) an STI.
There are many steps that can be taken to decrease risk and practice safer sex. Safer sex includes:
Correctly and consistently using latex barriers (condoms or dams) on body parts or shared toys for any kind of sex (vaginal, anal, or oral)
Being sexually exclusive: Both people only have sex with each other.
Getting tested for STIs
If you’ve had sexual contact with another person, have a former partner who has tested positive, and/or notice any signs or symptoms of an STI, make an appointment at Health Services.
Different STIs have different symptoms, which can include:
sores or bumps on and around your genitals, thighs, or buttocks
discharge from your vagina or penis that is different than normal
burning when you urinate or having to urinate frequently
itching, pain, irritation, and/or swelling
flu-like symptoms like fever, body aches, swollen glands, and feeling tired
All of these symptoms can be caused by things that aren’t STIs (like pimples, urinary tract infections, or yeast infections). It’s important to get tested. Talk with a medical provider about your symptoms, sexual history, and any concerns you have.