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Sexual Health

What is Sexual Health?

As part of the DCU Healthy initiative we aim to improve sexual health literacy, attitudes and behaviours through policy and awareness campaigns.  The World Health Organisation defines sexual health as ‘a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.  Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled’.

Sexual health is an important part of college life and often a time when students make decisions that can impact their sexual health and overall health and wellbeing.  Communication and informed decision making are essential to clearly express your desires, needs, consent, personal boundaries and use of protection to potential sexual partners.  Decisions may include abstaining from sex, being sexually active, gender of partners and also the types of contraception.  You should aim to be informed about your sexual health, to make good decisions about sexual behavior and to be comfortable with your sexual self.  It is important to seek advice as necessary so as to ensure that your decisions are in the best interest of yourself and others and to minimize potential risks.  In this section we will give you advice, tips, resources and services to support your sexual health, to make informed choices and to minimize risk.

 Safe Sex

Safe Sex means using protective measures to avoid exposure to sexually transmitted infections.  It generally refers to practices that do not involve the exchange of bodily fluids, including blood, sperm, vaginal secretions, and saliva, to avoid AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.  To practice safe sex means to make an informed decision about how to practice safe sex.  Here are our top safe sex tips:

  1. Always use a condom.  The Welfare Officer in the Students' Union gives out free condoms to students. 
  2. Limit the number of sexual partners you have.  The more partners that you have the greater the chance of coming into contact with sexually transmitted infection (STI’s).
  3. Mutual consent. Talk to your partner before having sex and make sure you are on the same page.  The only way to know for sure whether someone has consented to sex is if they tell you.
  4. Communicate and talk to your partner about how you can practice safer sex.  Having an open and respectful conversation will make things less stressful.
  5.  Don’t impair your judgement – Remember too much alcohol can affect your judgement.
  6. Contraception such as birth control is only that and does not protect from STI’s.
  7. Respect yourself and make informed decisions.  Don’t feel pressurised into doing anything that you are not comfortable with or may regret.
  8. Get Tested.  If you are concerned about your sexual health make an appointment in the DCU Health Centre
 Sexual Respect and Consent

Relationships and dating can be really exciting but it can get complicated and confusing around sex and intimacy.  At times it can be unclear how the other person feels and messages can be confusing and read wrong.  When it comes to sex it is always important that you both give permission for the duration of the sex, which basically is consent.  Sex without consent can mean sexual assault or rape. So how can you ensure consent.  Here are the top tips from Reachout on sexual respect and consent.

Talk about it
The only way to know for sure whether someone has consented to sex is if they tell you. It can be hard to let people know you’re not interested in going that far.  People might look happy about doing something, but on the inside they might not be, and don’t know how to tell you they’re uncomfortable. To be absolutely clear, you should ask them.  Here’s some suggestions on how to do ask:

  • Are you happy?
  • Are you comfortable?
  • Is there anything you don’t want to do?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • Do you want to have sex?

Body language
Examples of body language that can mean someone isn’t comfortable with what’s going on include:

  • Not responding to your touch
  • Pushing you away
  • Holding their arms tightly around their bodies
  • Turning away from you or hiding their face
  • Stiffening muscles

If you get a negative or non-committal answer to any of your questions, or if your partner’s body language is negative, stop what you’re doing and talk to them about it.

Other things you can do
Holding hands, sending flirty texts, kissing, hugging and touching are all ways of being intimate without having sex. You might enjoy kissing, but not feel ready to have sex.  Or you might have had sex before, but not feel like it every time you kiss, or get intimate.  It’s really important to make sure both of you are comfortable with what’s happening. Everyone has the right to say no. Equally, everyone has the right change their mind at any time, regardless of their past experiences.

Slowing down and stopping
Sometimes things move too quickly. Things you can say to slow things down include:

  • ‘I don’t want to go any further than kissing/hugging/touching.’
  • ‘Can we stay like this for while?’
  • ‘Can we slow down?’

It’s OK at any stage to want to stop. Just explain you’re not comfortable. Be clear about saying no.  However, saying no when we really mean yes can send mixed messages and confuse the situation. Treat the word ‘no’ seriously, so people know when we’re sincere about stopping.

Getting out of a situation
In a situation where the other person isn’t listening to you and you feel unsafe, you should remove yourself.  Saying you need to use the toilet is a way of getting out of the situation. Once you’re away from the situation, find a friend and tell them what’s happened.   However, if the person you’re with physically restrains you, even when you tell them no, they are committing sexual assault.

Consent Video
Here is a great video that explains consent, Consent it’s as simple as Tea.

 Alcohol and Sex

 Alcohol can affect people’s ability to make decisions, including whether or not they want to have sex. This means if someone’s really out of it, they can’t give consent.  Having sexual activity with someone when they don’t know what’s going on is considered the same as rape under law. If you see a friend who’s drunk being intimate with someone, pull them aside to make sure they know what they’re doing.  If your friend is the one getting intimate with a drunk person, pull them aside too, because they might get themselves into trouble.

 Contraception

Deciding to become sexually intimate with a partner can be a big step to take in a relationship, especially since, for many people, having sex involves an emotional commitment as well as a physical one.  If you decide to develop the relationship into a sexual one, it is vital that you are protected from a crisis pregnancy or STI infections. For more information on the forms of contraception and safe sex practices visit the DCU Health Centre website or the HSE Guide to Contrception.   

 Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) or sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) are infections or disease passed from person to person through sexual contact.  Most STI’s do not cause any symptoms but can pose a serious health risk.  Others cause symptoms such as unusual discharge, ulcers or pelvic pain.  For more information on the different types of Sexually Transmitted Infection, symptoms and support services visit the DCU Health Centre website.                

 Unplanned Pregnancy

Whether a pregnancy is planned or unplanned it can still come as a shock.  If you think you may be pregnant, it needs to be confirmed.  It is best to wait 4 days from when your period is due (or 32 days after the first day of your last period).  A reliable home pregnancy test kit can be bought from any pharmacy.  You can attend your GP, Student Health Centre or Family Planning organisation.  Some agencies offer free testing with medical cards.  When faced with a pregnancy it is best to give yourself some time to think about your feelings, reflect on your values, identify your support systems and evaluate all your options.  It is also important to talk to family and friends or student support services in DCU.  For more information on unplanned pregnancy visit the DCU Health Centre website.

 Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse has been described as the involvement of children and adolescents in sexual activity which they do not fully comprehend and to which they are unable to give informed consent. There are a number of offences under which a case in law may be brought, such as incest, attempted incest, unlawful intercourse, attempted intercourse, buggary, rape, indecent assault, use of children in illegal photographs or filmed acts, exposure to pornography and so forth (Schecter & Roberge, 1976).  For more information on child sexual abuse visit the DCU Counselling and Personal Development Service website.  Remember the Counselling and Personal Development Service is here to help – so if you need us, please phone 700 5165 or email counselling@dcu.ie to make an appointment.

 On Campus Supports
DCU Counselling Service   This is a professional, confidential and free service, which is available to all registered undergraduate and postgraduate DCU students.
DCU Student Health Service  The Student Health Service is a Nurse-Led service, providing on-campus primary healthcare to currently registered students of DCU. 
DCU Counselling Service Bibliotherapy The use of books for therapeutic purposes is known as ‘bibliotherapy’ and is the term used to cover the use of self-help books addressing psychological and emotional issues and difficulties.  DCU has a comprehsive bibliotherapy and a copy of each of the books is available in the DCU Library, Glasnevin Campus for reference.  A full book list is availale here.
 Off Campus Resources & Information
HSE Think Contraception Website

This website is the HSE website and is a source of information for men and women who want to learn more about sexual health. Visit www.thinkcontraception.ie