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A Freshers Guide to Sexual Health Services
By Lucy Pegg
As freshers week approaches, new students up and down the country will be buying their new bed linen, poring over events timetables, and praying they really do know how to feed themselves. But – though you may not be discussing this bit with your parents – for many, many students freshers week also presents itself as an opportunity for sexual adventures. So alongside analysing the reading list, think about making a note of your new local sexual health services too.
First things first: see what your university provides. There’s a good chance you won’t even have to leave your campus to get support, whether from the on-campus GP practise or your students’ union. University GP practises will offer everything any other doctor’s surgery would, often with a focus on STI testing, and usually with discreet and easily accessible services that will go a long way to avoiding any embarrassment. The GP can also help with pregnancy issues, if needed.
What your students’ union offers is more likely to differ, but most will now help with at least basic issues, whilst many will have comprehensive and very broad sexual health help. There’ll almost certainly be free contraception up for grabs; your campus is likely to be a C-Card location, meaning anyone under 24 has access to free condoms, and there may be femidoms and dams available too (perhaps through an LGBTQ+ society, if not the union itself). In fact, I’d be surprised if you can survive freshers week without having handfuls of condoms thrust upon you. As well as contraception, your students union might have less common services available, from offering free rape alarms, giving consent classes, or facilitating counselling services for sexual health issues. If you’re in need of counselling or mentoring in relation to sex, your university (rather than students’ union) should also have appointments to help you – though there’s likely to be a long wait to be seen.
Sometimes though you might need, or want, to look further than your campus for help. There will be sexual health services in the community, which you can seek out yourself or may be referred to by your campus GP. You can use the NHS website to check what’s available near you; this search will tell you both about NHS clinics, but also about pharmacies where you can get emergency contraception or free contraception. A general Google can be good too, as many localities will have a specific website for their sexual health services. What’s available might be very different depending on the area you’re in, so could be unfamiliar from what you’ve used at home or elsewhere. Broadly though, you’re likely to find drop-in clinics, HIV services, counselling, services for under 25s and LGBTQ+ provisions. All of these services are confidential (as university services should be too) and completely free to access, as long as you’re registered with the NHS – if you’re an international student, make sure you’ve done this.
Freshers week is a time for frivolity, new experiences and fun – but it’s still important to stay safe. Look out for your friends and yourself, and bear in mind the plethora of sexual health help available to students.