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Sexual Health

Your reproductive and sexual health is an integral part of your overarching health and wellbeing. Whether you are having sex, are thinking about having sex, or are choosing to wait, it’s important that you are aware of your options when it comes to taking care of yourself and engaging in safe practices. It is also important that you have a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships.

Deciding to become sexually active is a big decision. When making the decision to become sexually active, it is important that you reflect on your motivators, your feelings about what you are comfortable doing, how you are going to keep yourself safe (such as contraception and regular STI testing), and more. Check out the below resources to provide some guidance on what to consider and in deicison making:

Having healthy relationships and a fulfilling sex life ultimately comes down to communication. Openly and honestly sharing your wants, needs, and boundaries with your partner is the best way to ensure everyone is comfortable and happy.

Communication becomes essential when giving and asking for consent. The following are some basics on consent:

  • Enthusiastic consent is required for any kind of sex. It is given freely, with phrases like, “Yes!” or “I want you!” or “More!”.
  • Non-consent can take many forms. It can be given verbally, by saying “no,” “that hurts,” or “stop”. It can also be given nonverbally, by avoiding touch, staying silent, or shaking your head.
  • The lack of a “no” does not mean “yes.”
  • Consent to one act does not imply consent to other acts or to sex again in the future.
  • Consent can be revoked at any point during sex.
  • Being in a relationship does not imply consent.
  • Clothing or flirting do not imply consent.
  • Alcohol and drug use can make consent tricky. As a rule of thumb, if someone is too intoxicated to drive, they’re too intoxicated to have sex.
  • Someone who is passed out or unconscious cannot give consent.

If you encounter any signs of non-consent or want to be sure that your partner’s active participation is enthusiastic consent, stop and check in. You can ask your partner, “Does this feel good?” or “How are you doing?”.

Checking in doesn’t have to be reserved for sex. Good communication with your partner about your sex life is the best way to ensure that everyone enjoys themselves. Talking about sex and sexual preferences can be awkward, but chances are you and your partner will be glad you started the conversation.

For additional information, Planned Parenthood breaks down the basics of consent, and this video covers how to talk to your partner about having safer sex.

Hormonal birth control prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones in the body that inhibit ovulation, fertilization, and egg implantation in people with vaginas. Hormonal birth control can have both positive and negative side effects, so it is important to talk to your doctor about which birth control method is best for you.

Note: hormonal contraceptives do not protect against STIs.

  • Hormonal IUD: The IUD (intrauterine device) is a long-acting, reversible contraceptive (LARC) that is a tiny, T-shaped piece of plastic inserted into the uterus. The Hormonal IUD is low-maintenance and is almost 100% effective in preventing pregnancy. Learn more about the hormonal IUD here and here.
  • Implant: The Implant is a long-acting, reversible contraceptive (LARC) that is a tiny, thin rod inserted under the skin of the upper arm that releases hormones into the body. The Implant is low-maintenance and is almost 100% effective in preventing pregnancy. Learn more about the implant here and here.
  • The Pill: Birth control pills, also known as “The Pill,” prevent pregnancy by releasing hormones into the body through one pill taken daily. The pill is effective, but only when taken at or very close to the same time every day. Learn more about the pill here and here.
  • The Shot: The birth control shot, also known as “The Shot,” is an injection with hormones given by a doctor or nurse every three months that prevents pregnancy. The shot is effective but only when taken on time every 12-13 weeks. Learn more about the shot here and here.
  • The Patch: The contraceptive patch is worn on parts of the body (such as the belly, upper arm, butt, or back) that releases hormones through the skin. The patch should be changed once a week to be effective. Learn more about the patch here and here.
  • The Ring: The vaginal ring, also known as “the Ring,” is a small, flexible ring worn inside the vagina that prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones into the body by absorbing through the vaginal lining. It is effective but only when inserted and removed on schedule. Learn more about the ring here and here.

Barrier methods are used during vaginal, anal, and oral sex to provide a physical barrier between partners to prevent the transmission of STIs and sometimes pregnancy. Barrier methods and non-hormonal contraceptives prevent pregnancy by preventing the sperm from meeting the egg. These methods can have both positive and negative side effects, so it is important to talk to your doctor about which birth control method is best for you.

Note: Only select methods protect against STIs.

  • External Condom: The external condom is a thin stretchy pouch made of latex, plastic, or lambskin worn on a penis during sex that collects semen. The external condom is a barrier method, as it keeps sperm from coming in contact with the vagina. External condoms also protect against STI transmission. Learn more about external condoms here and here. Learn how to properly use an external condom in this video from Planned Parenthood.
  • Internal Condom: The internal condom is a pouch made of soft plastic that is placed inside the vagina or anus during sex. The internal condom is a barrier method that prevents sperm from coming in contact with the vagina. The internal condom protects against STI transmission. Learn more about the internal condom here and here. Learn how to properly use an internal condom in this video from our InTouch PHAs.
  • Dental Dam and Gloves/Finger Cots: The dental dam is a thin square of latex or polyurethane laid over the vulva or anus to prevent STI transmission during oral sex. Gloves and finger cots are latex or non-latex worn over hands or fingers to reduce the risk of STI transmission during manual sex. Dental dams, gloves and finger cots do protect against STI transmission. Learn how to create a dental dam out of an external condom in this video from our InTouch PHAs.
  • Copper IUD: The Copper IUD (intrauterine device) is a non-hormonal, long-acting, reversible contraceptive (LARC) that is a small, t-shaped piece of plastic wrapped in copper that is inserted into the uterus. The Copper IUD is a low-maintenance and almost 100% effective in preventing pregnancy. The Copper IUD can also act as emergency contraception if used within 120 hours of unprotected sex. Learn more about the Copper IUD here and here.
  • The Sponge: The Sponge is a small, round sponge made of soft plastic with spermicide placed inside the vagina. The sponge covers the cervix during sex and contains spermicide to prevent pregnancy. Learn more about the sponge here and here.
  • The Diaphragm: The Diaphragm is a shallow, bendable cup made of silicone placed inside the vagina. It covers the cervix during sex to prevent pregnancy. Learn more about the diaphragm here and here
  • Cervical Cap: The cervical cap is a tiny cup made of silicone that is placed inside the vagina. The cervical cap covers the cervix during sex to prevent pregnancy. Learn more about the cervical cap here and here.
  • Abstinence: Practicing Abstinence is when you do not have sex. It is important to note that abstinence means different things to different people and people can become abstient throughout their lives for different reasons. Abstinence is 100% effective as a birth control option if practiced perfectly everytime, but it takes discipline. Learn more about abstinence here and here

Emergency contraception is a birth control method used after unprotected sex or birth control failure (birth control mishap, broken condom, etc.) to stop pregnancy before it starts. Emergency contraception can work up to five days after unprotected sex, but is most effective if taken sooner. Some forms of emergency contraception can be purchased over the counter, while others require a prescription. You can obtain a prescription from UChicago Student Wellness by calling 773.834.WELL. If you aren't sure, it is important to talk to your doctor about which emergency contraception method is best for you.

  • Plan B One-Step: Plan B One Step, or “the morning-after pill,” is most effective when taken as soon as possible or within three days after unprotected sex, but can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. Learn more about Plan B One Step here.
  • Ella: Ella is the most effective morning-after pill, as it blocks the hormones required to conceive. It is most effective when taken as soon as possible or within five days of unprotected sex. Ella requires a prescription, which can be obtained through an appointment with UChicago Student Wellness. Learn more about Ella here.
  • Copper IUD: The Copper IUD is a non-hormonal, long-acting, reversible contraceptive (see above in Barrier Methods and Non-Hormonal Contraception). The Copper IUD can act as emergency contraception that is >99.9% effective if used within 5 days of unprotected sex. Learn more about the Copper IUD here.
  • Learn more about all Emergency Contraceptives here.
  • Gynecological exams are recommended for anyone age 21 and older. Good gynecological care is an important part of overall health, whether you identify as straight, lesbian, bisexual, trans, questioning, etc. Exams are also an opportunity to talk to a clinician about any sexual health or reproductive concerns and to discuss general women's health care. Read more on scheduling a gynecological exam at UChicago Student Wellness.
  • STI screenings are also crucial for a healthy sex life. You should have open communication with your partner about your STI status. In addition to this, though you can use barrier methods to protect from STIs, it is recommended that you and your partner be screened. It is recommended that you get tested between each sexual partner or once a year if you are monogamous. UChicago Student Wellness offers confidential STI testing for all students. You will receive your results within 3 days. For more information about STIs, please visit the American Sexual Health Association.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections that are spread from person to person through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. STIs are common and many people who have STIs don’t experience symptoms. However, common STI symptoms are abnormal discharge, painful intercourse, painful urination, or swelling, redness, or sores around the genitals.

Getting tested is the only way to know if you have an STI. UChicago Student Wellness offers free, confidential STI testing for all students who pay the Student Life Fee. It is recommended that you get tested between each sexual partner or once a year if you are monogamous.

Learn about common STIs here.

Communicating about your STI status is an important part of maintaining your and your partners’ sexual health and of maintaining a healthy relationship if you’re in one. It may seem awkward at first, but it is necessary. Your partner(s) will likely appreciate the fact that you’re being conscientious about their health in addition to your own. When communicating about your STI status, be sure to use a caring and open tone. Try to avoid words like “clean” to convey that you or your partner tested negative.

The following clinics and resources provide comprehensive reproductive and sexual health services to patients. Follow the links to learn more about services and/or to schedule an appointment.

UChicago Medicine Planned Parenthood Other Resources
UChicago Student Wellness Planned Parenthood - Englewood Chicago Women’s Health Center
UChicago Medicine Ryan Center for Family Planning Planned Parenthood - Loop Howard Brown Health Clinic
UChicago Medicine Gynecology

UChicagoSocial: UChicago Student Wellness