Ask a Provider: All About Sexual Health

At the University of Florida Student Health Care Center, our goal is to equip you with the knowledge and resources necessary to make informed decisions and promote a safe place to discuss your health and wellbeing during your time in college. SHCC Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Donelan shares important information in this Q&A to help you navigate sexual health topics, including contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and hygiene.

Birth Control

What is the best method of birth control? Which ones are offered at the SHCC? How do I know which birth control option is right for me?

It depends on how you define “best” and that’s different for everyone. If you want a method that prevents pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, an internal (female) or external (male) condom is the best. If you like to be in control of your birth control, have multiple options to choose from and maintain a predictable period, then birth control pills may be a good match. If you doubt you will remember a daily pill, then the birth control patch or vaginal ring could be a better option. If you prefer to “set it and forget it” and don’t like the idea of hormones, then a copper or low-dose hormonal IUD may be the best option.

At the SHCC, we offer many options for contraception. We take the time to educate patients about these different birth control methods and help them decide which option might be best for them.

Is birth control only used for contraception?

No! Here are some examples:

  • Condoms, both external (male) and internal (female) types, are very effective protection against STIs
  • Many people find that birth control pills improve their acne
  • Hormonal birth control can provide a predictable bleeding pattern, or no period at all if that’s what you want
  • Hormonal birth control methods may improve your quality of life if you have severe pain during your period or heavy bleeding

Are there any side effects to birth control?

Hormonal birth control affects our bodies in many ways. The most common adverse effects we see are irregular bleeding and mood changes. This can often be addressed by changing the balance of hormones or discussing other methods.

Will birth control cause me to gain weight?

Many patients talk to us about their worry surrounding weight gain on birth control. Weight changes are an uncommon side effect of most hormonal methods. You can always talk to your provider about your concerns.

What can I expect during an appointment at the SHCC to ask about birth control?

First, let’s talk about what NOT to expect. Typically, you will not need to have a pelvic exam in order to get birth control. The one exception to this is appointments for the IUD, which requires a pelvic exam in order to be inserted.

When you come to the Gynecology and Sexual Health Clinic at the SHCC, you will meet with a nurse practitioner who is an expert on contraception. She will review your medical history, lifestyle and goals to help you figure out which contraceptive options will work for you. Then, she will write a prescription, help you get scheduled for a procedure or point you toward more resources if you need more information or time to consider.

Once you start your method, our clinic is always available for questions and support.

STIs/STDs:

What is the difference between an STD and an STI?

STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. They are just two different terms for the same thing.

Can I get tested if I don’t have any symptoms?

Yes! Many STIs do not have symptoms. For example, chlamydia is often diagnosed in patients who are asymptomatic.

When should I see my provider if I am worried about an STD/STI?

Any time you have a question, we are happy to talk with you. Symptoms that warrant an appointment include increased or bad-smelling vaginal discharge, pain with urination, pain with sex, bleeding after sex, new bumps or cuts on the vulva or penis and pelvic pain.  

How can I prevent STDs/STIs?

Barrier methods such as the external or internal condom and the dental dam (a piece of latex placed over a body part during oral sex) are an effective prevention for many STIs. There is also a daily preventive treatment called PrEP that can be used to prevent HIV infection. Additionally, open communication with sexual partners about risks and sexual history is key to safer sex.

How do I start the conversation about STDs/STIs with my partner?

Start the conversation when you are fully clothed and not in the heat of the moment. Try something like: ”I like you, and I want to make sure we both stay safe and healthy.” Then, let them know about your history and when you were last tested and ask them the same. Talk to them about what activities you are and are not comfortable with and where your boundaries are.

Hygiene

What do I need to know about hygiene?

For people with vulvas and vaginas, you do not need special washes, wipes or pH-balanced products to maintain good sexual hygiene. Simply wash in the folds of the vulva and near the vaginal opening with warm water only. It is also important to avoid products with a strong fragrance. These strong fragrances often contain chemicals that can be irritating to the sensitive skin of the vulva and vagina. If you start to feel irritated, wear comfortable cotton underwear and loose pants or a skirt. For prevention when you exercise, it is important to change out of sweaty clothes, especially leggings as they can increase the risk of vaginal yeast infections or a bacterial imbalance.

For people with penises and scrotums, wash with warm water and a gentle cleanser like Dove or Cetaphil. Avoid getting soap in the urethral opening. If you have a foreskin, you should gently pull it back in the shower and rinse the skin underneath. Do not use soap in this area!

Is it important to urinate after sex?

In controlled studies, urinating after sex has not been shown to decrease the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections (a common issue for college-age people with vaginas). However, anecdotally, many people feel it makes a difference.

Is vaginal discharge normal?

Yes. Everyone with a vagina produces discharge. Vaginal discharge plays a role in cleaning the vagina, lubricating it when aroused and can even play a role in fertility. Discharge can change color and texture at different parts of the menstrual cycle and is sometimes different depending on the method of birth control you use. How much discharge is normal? As much as 4 mL per day.

What should I do if there is a bad odor?

When discharge has an unpleasant odor or is accompanied with pain, irritation, itching or irregular bleeding, you should make an appointment with a health care provider.

I get embarrassed when talking about sexual hygiene. Is this normal?

It’s normal to feel uncomfortable talking about reproductive organs and how to take care of them. Sometimes this can lead to feeling more anxious or spending too much time researching your symptoms online. At the SHCC, we are here to provide judgment-free health care and answer any questions you may have. We offer a safe, accepting environment, and our mission is to help our patients feel healthier and more in control of their bodies.

Do I need to have a medical issue to make an appointment with a Gynecology and Sexual Health Clinic provider?

Sometimes you may just need a safe, confidential place to ask questions and hear answers about your body or sex. For people with vaginas, the Gynecology and Sexual Health Clinic is that place. For others, our primary care clinic provides the same level of compassionate, private sexual health care.

How can I make an appointment with a provider at the SHCC?

Call us at (352) 392-1161 to make an appointment with a provider.