Ask Me Anything About Sex: Q&A
Where and how do I learn more about birth control on campus? I’m considering getting on the pill or getting an IUD but aren’t sure what to expect.
The birth control pill is typically a combination of estrogen and progestin taken daily to help prevent conception. When consistently taken at the same time every day, the pill is ~98% effective. You’ll need a prescription to take the pill, which can be obtained from your primary care provider or from Student Wellness Services. If you already have a prescription for the pill, refills can easily be picked up from a pharmacy, including the one in the ARC.
IUDs come in two forms; copper and hormonal. IUDs are effective for several years (between 3-10 depending on the type and brand) without needing to be changed or replaced. The process for inserting one is the same, and the appointment from start to finish will take about 30 minutes. The insertion involves using a speculum to open the vagina, a device is then used to measure the depth of the uterus, and finally the IUD is inserted. After speaking with your primary care provider about which one is best for you, they insert the device (after which you can expect some mild cramping and bleeding, major complications are rare). As with all other medical information, it is completely confidential, and all information stays between you and your doctor. There are many other types of contraceptive options such as the contraceptive patch, the vaginal ring, injectable birth control, and the contraceptive implant. You can use the “It’s a Plan” tool to explore what option might work for you, and discuss further with your doctor or nurse practitioner.
When should I start going for prophylactic health checks like STI screenings and pelvic exams? This can also include self-checks (breast/testicular exams)
Getting prophylactic health checks is an important component in maintaining your physical and sexual health.
Currently Cancer Care Ontario recommends that anyone who is sexually active with a cervix complete PAP smears every 3 years starting at age 21, although this recommendation will be changing to age 25 in the near future.
Routine STI screenings are recommended for those who are sexually active since many STIs have no symptoms. Ideally you should get screened in between each new partner. Depending on the infection, some may be detected right away while others have a latency period. You can book an appointment at Student Wellness Services for STI testing and treatment.
How effective is using a condom? If it breaks, do I need to take Plan B?
With perfect condom use, it is stated that male condoms have an 98% efficacy rate and female condoms have a 95% efficacy rate against pregnancy. However, it is rare to have perfect condom use, so these statistics lower when there is the consideration of “typical” use – male condoms will be effective 79% of the time and female condoms will be effective 75% of the time. Condoms, and other barriers like dental dams, are also effective at reducing your chance of transmitting or getting STIs.
If the condom breaks during a sexual encounter, then it is the same as not using any birth control methods. This does not guarantee you are pregnant but will greatly increase the risk that you could be. If you are concerned about becoming pregnant, then there is the option of taking hormonal emergency contraception, for example Plan B or Ella. Both are most effective when taken as soon as possible after a sexual encounter, but Plan B can be taken up to 72 hours afterwards and Ella can be taken 5 days afterwards. To obtain these, Plan B is an over-the-counter medication that can be purchased at a pharmacy, while Ella requires a prescription.
To decrease the risk of the condom breaking, here are some tips to prevent tearing: store in a cool and dry place, check for rips and the expiration date before opening, do not use anything sharp to open the package, do not use oil-based lubricants (e.g. Vaseline) with latex condoms, and be sure to put on properly. As well, it is useful to check if the condom is still intact during sex if you are able to. Finally, if the condom does break, make sure to remove the broken one right away and put on a new one.
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?
TTS is a rare (but dangerous) bacterial infectuon that causes a rapid onset of symptoms that can resemble the flu, rashes, difficulty breathing, and confusion. TSS is a medical emergency, but full recovery is possible when recognized and treated properly.
TSS is usually caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which is naturally found in human skin and in the nose. It is when these bacteria overgrow in the vaginal environment that their toxins create the effects of TSS.
Tampons can contribute to the overgrowth of bacteria by creating small abrasions on vaginal walls and drying out the vaginal environment if left in for longer than recommended.
What happens if my period skips a cycle? Am I pregnant?
It is not out of the norm to miss a few periods here and there, because the menstrual cycle depends on many factors. One of the first things that probably comes to mind is pregnancy, but others include stress, sudden weight loss, or even over-exertion of the body in term of exercise.
When the body is under intense stress, it can retain the fight-or-flight response and prevent ovulation. Decreasing stress and improving relaxation can help get your period back on track.
Sudden weight loss affects the body’s hormones production, which can deter ovulation. To reach the necessary caloric intake to support these bodily functions, healthy eating strategies or professional guidance can be sought out.
Whatever the cause may be, it is always recommended to rest and refuel your body and seek medical attention if concerns continue.
Can I get pregnant during my period?
While the chances of getting pregnant while having unprotected sex on your period are low, it IS possible. During menstruation, the lining of the uterus is shedding, and the egg is not found in the uterus, and thus cannot be fertilized. HOWEVER, is it important to consider that sperm can survive in the vaginal reproductive tract for up to one week, and during this time the egg can ravel down to the uterus walls and be fertilized.
So, if you do not wish to get pregnant, use contraception!
What is the best birth control to use?
The ‘best’ birth control is different for everyone and choosing a method depends on your needs and lifestyle choices. Here are some things to consider:
How fail-proof your birth control needs to be
Protection against pregnancy and/or STIs?
Some examples of birth control (this is not an exhaustive list):
Birth control implant (hormonal method)
Intrauterine device (IUD)
Birth control shot
Vaginal gel (non-hormonal method)
Birth control patch or pill
Condoms and dental dams (barrier method) Speak with a healthcare practitioner to determine which method is rights for you.
Is it normal to be a virgin in university?
Yes! Absolutely. Having sex or not having sex is a very personal choice and there is no correct timeline for making that decision. In fact, 32% of Queen’s students reported having had no sexual partners (NCHA, 2022). The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with your decision.
How effective is pulling out?
With perfect use, pulling out is 96% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, it can be difficult to pull out during sex and sperm may be in the pre-ejaculate (pre-cum), which is not typically felt when it leaves the penis, so withdrawal is likely only 80% effective. Male condoms are 98% effective with perfect use. Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly can cause latex condoms to break down. Look for water-based lubricants because they are compatible with latex condoms.
The withdrawal method (also known as pulling out) is NOT an effective birth control method. If you wish to use the withdrawal method, we suggest combining it with another form of birth control (e.g., the birth control pill, an intrauterine device (IUD)) to ensure effective protection.
According to online sources, with perfect use, which takes a lot of self-control and communication between partners, pulling out is 96% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, it can be difficult to pull out accurately during sex and sperm may be in the pre-ejaculate (pre-cum), which is not typically felt when it leaves the penis (and you may get pregnant from pre-cum), so withdrawal is typically only 80% effective. Another important factor to consider with the pull-out method is that it cannot prevent STIs. On the other hand, male condoms are 98% effective with perfect use, so there are much better birth control options available.
Where do you buy plan B on campus?
You can buy Plan B from DrugSmart Pharmacy in the ARC. You don’t need a prescription to buy Plan B. It’s also available at Shoppers Drug Mart. Plan B is a single pill dose that, unlike other birth control methods, can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or following a contraceptive accident.
How effective is an IUD (like actually….)
Intra-uterine devices (IUDs) are small T-shaped implants that sit inside the uterus to help prevent pregnancy. There are 2 main varieties offered in Canada: the copper IUD (effective for up to ten years), and the hormonal IUD (effective for up to five years). Both are greater than 99% effective, with less than 1 in 100 women falling pregnant each year (considering the IUD is working effectively). However, this can differ for each person, so be sure to consult your doctor on which contraceptive method is best for you!
Should I still be on birth control if I am a woman who sleeps with women?
It depends on what you mean by birth control! If you are a female-bodied individual who is sleeping with another female-bodied individual, then pregnancy is not an issue. However, there are lots of other reasons to be on birth control; barrier-based methods are effective at preventing sexually transmitted infections between partners. Some people choose to be on birth control not for pregnancy-preventing purposes, but rather to balance hormonal cycles/acne/mood swings. As always, be sure to consult your doctor to discuss why you’d like to be on birth control (or not!) so they can find the best methods for you.
Can you find birth control at the pharmacy at the ARC?
The DrugSmart Pharmacy at the ARC sells barrier-based methods (both external and internal condoms), as well as Plan B emergency contraction. If you have a current birth control pill prescription, you can get it filled at DrugSmart. They cannot sell intrauterine devices (IUDs) or birth control implants, as these must be inserted by a physician. Another great on-campus option is the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC), which sells at cost-condoms, lube, and other sex toys. While the SHRC does sell pregnancy tests, they do not provide plan B or other contraceptive options - only condoms!
Ama About Consent series
What is consent and how do know when I’ve gotten it?
Consent is the act of explicitly agreeing (either verbally or nonverbally) to engage in a specific sexual act. It must be freely given (not pressured or coerced), can be reversed at any time, informed, enthusiastic, and specific! Just because someone is consenting to one act does not mean they consent to everything. It also means that one person is not in a position of power over the other person or coercing someone into the act – consent is based on equal power.
Consent is not implied, this includes situations where the person agreed to a previous sexual encounter, or you are in a relationship with the other person. Consent should be obtained from both parties every time you plan to engage in a sexual act. An absence of “no” also does not mean “yes” either; consent should be explicit and not assumed. It is important to know that consent can be revoked at any time. Remember that communication is important and that you need to listen to your partner.
If you want to give someone your consent, there are lots of verbal and non-verbal ways to do so: nodding, signs of enthusiasm, telling your partner you like that, or encouraging them to continue are all great ways to communicate your consent with your partner. Examples of what consent does not look like include silence, flirting, “maybe”, negative body language, etc.
Do you have any advice for navigating consent and substance use?
While it is possible to have positive and safe sex while using substances, there is quite a bit to consider. There is a difference between having a single drink and being drunk to the point where you cannot provide informed consent. Signs of being too intoxicated to consent can include inability to speak coherently, confusion, and difficulty walking unassisted. If you’re ever unsure if an individual is sober enough to consent, they aren’t. It’s the responsibility of the person initiating sex to get consent, even if they are also under the influence.
Do you have any advice about withdrawing consent?
One of the most important parts about giving someone your consent is remembering that it can be removed at any time, for any reason. You should never feel bad about this. Whether this is your 1st time or 100th time giving someone your consent, it can always be revoked. If you’re feeling nervous about asking someone to stop, here are a few ways the Sexual Health Team came up with:
“Maybe not tonight, I’m not feeling it”
“Can we do this instead?”
“I’m not in the mood right now”
If your partner reacts negatively, be persistent and do not be afraid to stand up for yourself. Coercing somebody into any sexual act is not okay. SWS and the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services (SVPRS) have resources if you worry that you have been a victim of sexual violence.
Don’t be afraid to have a safety plan or backup plan in these situations. It is always good to have someone trusted that you can talk to, for example, close friends, family members, residence dons, SWS peer educators, or anyone you feel comfortable with.