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Davis, California

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Column: Protect yourself: The Sequel

Sex Ed

If you asked the majority of college students what constitutes protection during sex, most would say condoms and birth-control pills. And even those who didn’t could probably identify those items in a line-up.

But what about the insertive condom, IUD or vaginal ring? While people may have heard the names of these methods, they may not have heard much else. So today, we are going to have a mini-primer on some of the lesser known forms of contraception.

We can basically break contraceptives into two categories: barrier methods and hormonal methods. On the barrier side, we have the big three: male condoms, insertive condoms and dental dams. Dental dams protect from STIs, and the two condoms protect from STIs and pregnancy. Since male condoms are the most well-known, I’m going to skip them. I’m also going to pass on the dental dam for now, but I can guarantee that we’ll discuss those brightly colored, latex beauties in a later column.

That leaves us with the insertive (a.k.a. female) condom, which is often dismissed as the difficult and inferior cousin of the male condom. This is not so. This slick little number is made of polyurethane and thus has two major benefits. First, there are no worries about latex allergies. Second, many people find that this material increases sensitivity during sex, and the way in which it interacts with skin creates a warming sensation that some people find very pleasing. As an added bonus, you can insert it up to eight hours before use, so if you’re not sure if sexy times are imminent you can slip it in just to be safe.

Switching to the hormonal end of the spectrum, let’s discuss the IUD and the ring, since they are both commonly used items that the average college student may not know much about. But before any of that, I’d like to remind you of one major thing: Hormonal contraceptives are meant to prevent pregnancy. They are NOT going to protect you from STI transmission, so you need to use them in tandem with one of the barrier methods in order to be safe.

Let’s begin with the IUD. This small, T-shaped device is inserted into the uterus (by a doctor) and acts as a spermicide. Worldwide, it is more popular than birth control pills. However, in the U.S., only two percent of the uterus-having population utilizes it. This strikes me as odd because the IUD is not only safe and effective, but it lasts from five to 10 years depending on the variety. So if baby making is not in your foreseeable future, it may be a good investment.

Continuing the theme of insertion (well, this is a sex column), let’s discuss the vaginal ring, a.k.a. NuvaRing. This is a flexible, plastic ring that is inserted into the vagina once a month, left in for three weeks, and then removed for a fourth week. A benefit of the ring is that, like the IUD, it’s put in and stays in. So, if you’re worried about your ability to remember to take a pill every day, it’s a good option.

There is a myth that the ring interferes with sex because your partner can feel it during intercourse. Although this is almost never the case, you can remove the ring for three hours to prevent discomfort during sex. But that time limit is strict, so remember to replace it when those three hours are up.

A final word of advice on the methods we’ve discussed, as well as the rest of the options out there: do not make decisions about contraception, particularly the hormonal kind, based solely on advice columns in college newspapers. Yes, I have done my research. But I am not a doctor.

If you are considering a new form of contraception, make an appointment to talk with a professional about your options. The type of relationship you’re in, your financial status, other medical issues and your own concerns and desires are all things you might want to discuss before making a decision.

It’s also helpful to do a little research of your own before the visit. I recommend the Student Health and Counseling Center’s contraception website, as well as Planned Parenthood’s “My Method” tool. Just remember that, as with so many aspects of sex, the more knowledge you have, the happier you’ll be.

SAM WALL wants you to send your sex questions, comments and concerns to sewall@ucdavis.edu.


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