By Greg Hudson
Arts & Life Editor
With the excitement of a new semester charging through campus, and the residue of summer freedom burning up quickly, hook-ups are bound to happen.
To make sure that the sex isn’t life-changing in a bad way, it’s best to be smart and plan ahead.
Free condoms are available at the Student Campus Centre and many other places around campus. Also, any number of shops near campus sells contraceptives in all their varied splendor (the Stag Shop is just down Yonge Street — you can’t miss it, it’s the only store where the mannequins have had breast augmentation surgery). Use them.
But planning is a moot point if you wake up realizing you forgot to use protection. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself in that position, this is your guide to surviving forgetful fornication.
Step one: Vow to never be careless again.
Like you do after a night of binge drinking, or after an all-night essay writing session, pledge to never do it again. But this time, as opposed to the covenants you make with your hangovers, or your overheated laptop, keep it.
“Certainly, the more partners you have, your risk increases,” says Mickey, a sexual health counselor at the Hassle Free Clinic located just off campus at the corner of Church and Gerrard streets. Because the services they offer at the clinic are anonymous, they opt to remain so as well.
Step two: Get tested.
Although it can be both emotionally and physically uncomfortable, it’s important to get tested for sexually transmitted infections after the event, says Lana Leitch, program assistant for Sexual Health Access in Calgary.
“Just focus on the fact that getting tested for STIs is a responsible, empowering things to do, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed,” she says.
Most STIs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and the human papilloma virus (HPV) can be detected quickly and treated effectively. The testing itself might be uncomfortable, but Mickey says, that fades in comparison to the dangers of living with an untreated STI.
According to a sexual health counselor at Toronto Public Health who also insisted on anonymity, it isn’t necessarily effective to be tested the next day. Whether the concern is pregnancy or infection, there isn’t a test that is effective immediately.
Know your options.
If your major fear is an unwanted pregnancy, you do have an alternative to the stress of waiting. Plan B, also called the morning-after pill, is now available over the counter without a prescription. According to Leitch, if taken within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex, it will prevent 95 per cent of unwanted pregnancies. The set of two pills, which taken together are a high dose of hormones that prevent ovulation, become less effective the longer they are taken after the act.
“As far as STIs are concerned, if you are having unprotected sex, there isn’t much you can do,” the Toronto Public health counselor says.
However, if you have had unsafe sex with a person who is known to have HIV or is high risk, you might qualify for a Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), which can serve as a morning after pill for HIV. The results are not proven and accessibility is determined by a physician.
“I don’t think the hospital will even administer it as a safeguard because there has to be medical guidelines and perimeters, certain thresholds need to met before those drugs are administered,” Mickey says.
Because the PEP is potentially toxic, and ranges from $600 to $1,200, it’s prescription and administration is governed by a doctor.
Step Four: Get tested again.
Syphilis and HIV can’t be detected until as many as three months after the possible infection. Unlike other STI’s which can be found with the precarious swabbing of a professional, these two dangers require a blood test.
Finally, step five: Get informed and get treated.
Because some STIs are asymptomatic, many people are infected ignorantly. For this reason, if you get infected, tell the person who infected you.
HPV is especially tricky since it transmitted via skin contact. Condoms don’t help.
“Some doctors call it the common cold of sex,” says Leitch. “It’s something that most people will get at sometime in their sexual life. Up to 80 per cent will have HPV whether they know it or not.”
One hopes sex, safe or not, will not lead to anything drastic. If it does, it’s important to remember that you are not alone, no matter what the situation is.
“Any form of unprotected sexual activity does carry a certain level of risk. It is your ability to negotiate and manage that risk that is most important,” Mickey says, adding that clinics such as his can provide people with information so they can determine the level of risk that they are comfortable with.
For more information on STIs and sexual health in general, students can check out the hassle free clinic on the web at HassleFreeClinic.com.