Regardless of whether you get care through your college, a local Planned Parenthood clinic, or another provider who isn’t associated with your campus, you’ll also probably want to know how your provider handles information you might like kept confidential, like prescriptions for birth control, says Dr. Lincoln. For example, even though you have a legal right to medical privacy, your parents might get statements that show you visited an ob-gyn if you go through their insurance for the visit. Dr. Lincoln says you can ask your provider what types of information the insured party might get in the mail and notes that a Planned Parenthood or campus-based clinic is more likely to be discreet.
If you live in a dorm, your resident assistant may also have some answers to your questions about your school’s sexual-health services, including those that are specific to the LGBTQ+ community. For example, at least 149 colleges and universities offer insurance plans that cover hormones and gender-affirming surgeries for transitioning students, according to data collected by the non-profit Campus Pride.
And even if you aren’t sexually active at the moment, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the health care services you have available so that you feel comfortable using them if and when you need them. If you have a vagina, it’s particularly important to have a provider to speak to when you suspect that you have an infection, such as bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection, or a UTI, because you’ll want to get speedy treatment.
3. If you want to avoid pregnancy, decide on a contraception plan.
Using a condom during sex can significantly reduce your odds of getting an STI or becoming pregnant—with perfect use, they’re effective at pregnancy prevention 98% of the time. But user error is common: In a 2017 analysis of contraceptive failure published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, condoms had, on average, a 13% failure rate over the span of one year. In other words, if you’re having the kind of sex that can lead to pregnancy, ideally, you’ll have a backup method of birth control.
Choosing a birth control method can be daunting, though, since there are so many options available, says Dr. Lincoln. Your best bet is to do a little research beforehand so that you have an idea of what method would work best for you. “It’s important to go to legitimate sources, and not TikTok, which can scare you off just about every birth control option,” Dr. Lincoln says. She points out that experiences with birth control that you might see on social media are pretty much like online business reviews, where people only share “if it’s really awesome or really horrible.”
Dr. Lincoln recommends FindMyMethod and Bedsider.org as sites to consult as you start your research. Once you’ve compiled a list of pros, cons, and potential side effects for a few birth control options, you’ll be more empowered for a conversation with your provider.
4. Understand when to get tested for STIs.
STIs can be an unfortunate part of being sexually active. That’s true even if you aren’t engaging in penetrative sex of any kind. If body fluids like saliva, semen, or vaginal secretions are getting swapped, your risk of infection will never be zero, Kristen Mark, PhD, a professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Health, tells SELF.
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