Since the coronavirus hit the U.S. in early 2020, our lives have all changed drastically in a variety of ways. Back in March, most schools shuttered their campuses, sending students home and forcing them to take classes online rather than in person.
While many had hoped that life would return to “normal” by now, the ongoing pandemic continues to rage through the country and many aspects of life are still in limbo. This includes schooling for millions of students.
Universities and colleges across America plan to keep their classes online for the fall 2020 semester, which means that most campuses will remain closed. So what does that mean for the many students who rely on their school’s health centers, including those that provide access to sexual healthcare?
Getting Your Sexual Healthcare on Campus
“The sexual and reproductive health care services available to students vary from campus to campus,” says Dr. Gillian Dean, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “On some campuses, students have access to a range of sexual and reproductive health care services.”
These services can include counseling, birth control options, pregnancy testing, medical abortion and the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), among others.
JeNeen Anderson, MPH, the Director of Field Service for Programs for Power to Decide, also notes that while some campuses are fully functional health centers, even those with more limited capacities often have a referral network within their communities to help students get the care they need.
Though college campuses may be closed for classes and on-campus living in the fall, Anderson points out that if you get your healthcare from your school, they may still provide care at the health center, as it is deemed an essential service. In other words, call to see if they are still open in the coming weeks and months and what services they will still be providing.
Blake Flaugher, MPH, CHES, the chair of the Sexual Health Promotion and Clinical Care Coalition at the American College Health Association notes that some schools even “show students where they can access sexual health resources on campus and in the surrounding areas.”
Anderson also points out that for students who live far away from their campus, many of these student health centers are providing telehealth services. Again, it’s good to check in with your school and see what they’ll have available to you, even while you learn from home.
Unfortunately, as Dean adds, “the sexual health care, education, and resources available to students on their campuses under typical circumstances will depend on the school that they attend and what the school-provided health insurance covers.”
If your school isn’t the best resource, Flaugher says that you can always “contact your local health department or community health center.” Dean says that any student can contact their local Planned Parenthood to see what options are available to them.
“Most accept health insurance, and if you qualify, Medicaid or other state programs may lower your health care costs,” Dean says. “Whether you have your own health insurance, are on your parents’ plan, or don’t have insurance at all, your local Planned Parenthood health center can give you specific information on costs and help you get the care you need.”
Your Sexual Health is Still Very Important During the Coronavirus
Your sexual health and your overall wellness are tied in with one another, and that includes your possible exposure to COVID-19. After all, people are still going to continue to have sex during the pandemic, so your health and safety are key.
“Even though the pandemic may mean that classes are now remote and the campus health services students typically rely on are inaccessible, students still need to be able to access high quality health care and resources,” Dean says.
“The sexual health needs of young adults, and everyone else, still need to be prioritized,” Flaugher says, adding, “If someone postpones getting themselves tested for STIs/HIV, for example, we know that there can be long-term health effects if they have an infection and remain untreated.”
Aside from the risk of infection and pregnancy, Flaugher also points out that during these isolating times, many people are craving connection and healthy intimacy can positively impact mental health. This is why it’s important for people and their healthcare providers to have the “tools to navigate their sexuality in a way that recognizes COVID-19 risks,” he says.
Anderson calls this the “harm reduction strategy,” which is practicing safe sex methods, such as wearing condoms. If you are still quarantining, Flaugher says there are other resources for social distanced intimacy like safe sexting, like UC Davis’ Love Lab.
If you had planned to learn about human sexuality in school this fall, fret not, as there are plenty of resources for that, too. Cassandra Belson, Engagement and Advocacy Program Director for Nurses for Sexual and Reproductive Health, points to the National Coalition for Sexual Health as a great place to learn more about sexual health.
Belson says this is an ideal time for young people to be more aware of what’s going on with their own bodies and to use this as a jumping off point to learn about prevention, as well as advocating for their own healthcare needs. As Flaugher sums it up astutely, “Sexual health is so connected to overall health.”