British students and sex: everything you need to know

British students attitudes sex

This article about everything you need to know about British students and sex was published by the Great British Mag content team on 9 August, 2019

Generally speaking, Brits are pretty open about sex. Sexual innuendo is the basis for a lot of British humour and the entire nation becomes shamelessly enraptured by Love Island every summer. Abstinence is not a cultural imperative; many Brits think that waiting until marriage to have sex is old-fashioned. Many Brits also feel that having multiple partners over the course of one’s lifetime is perfectly okay.

Given all this it is perhaps not surprising that some students have sex while at university. Some home students feel that they are mature enough to take this step.

Freshers’ Week

Freshers’ Week has a bit of a reputation. There is a stereotype that students have a lot of reckless sex during their first week at uni. While many home students do not engage in this behaviour you may see or hear things during Freshers’ that you find shocking or don’t agree with. For example, your uni will likely be giving out free condoms. They may also have literature about contraception and sexual health or even at-home STI testing kits.

Your university is not trying to pressure you into having sex. They are trying to make sure that if you choose to have sex while at university, you are safe and informed. You do not have to take any condoms or literature if you do not wish to.

Freshers’ Week is intense for a lot of reasons, but you will find that everything settles down after the first week.

Brits, sex, and dating

British attitudes towards sex may seem casual to you. In the UK is common to have sex before marriage, sleep with a bunch of different people, have one-night stands, kiss in public, live with your partner but never marry them, and do all sorts of other things which you may find a little scandalous.

Having sex with a Brit does not automatically mean that you are dating them. “Hook-up culture,” i.e. having casual sex with someone and never getting into a relationship with them, is common. Some people just aren’t interested in dating, so make sure you know what you want before sleeping with someone. If you want different things the situation could get awkward.

You may find that someone is very friendly and charming to you at first and then completely ignores you after you sleep with them. This is known as “ghosting.” It’s not a very kind thing to do but it does happen. You can confront the person if you wish but this behaviour typically means that they are no longer interested in you, and you probably won’t be able to change their mind.

Keep in mind that sex can muddy relationships. Think twice about sleeping with your housemates or co-workers – if it ends badly between the two of you then your living or work situation could become very awkward.

Sex is incredibly personal and if you do not want to have it then that is okay. By the same turn, if you do want to have sex, that is also okay. Do what feels right for you.

If you choose to have sex, do your best to be sensible about it. Get tested for infections and diseases, use contraception, and be honest about what you want. Don’t try to pressure someone into doing something they don’t want to, and don’t let yourself be pressured into doing anything, either. Remember that “no” always means no.

LGBTQ+ students

Everything that has already been mentioned applies to LGBT students in higher education. Sexual education for LGBTQ+ students can be patchy or non existent, depending on where you are from, but things like protection, testing, consent, and making sensible choices are just as important for LGBTQ+ students as they are for their straight peers. Even if there is no chance of a pregnancy you should still use some form of protection, such as a condom or a dental dam, to prevent the spread of disease.

Generally speaking the UK is a safe country for LGBTQ+ people but unfortunately homophobia and transphobia do exist here. Your university will almost certainly have an LGBTQ+ society which you can join. They can help you navigate the local culture, tell you where the community’s safe spaces are, and support you if you feel unsafe. If you do not wish to come out, you can join the society as an ally. Allies are straight people who support LGBTQ+ people.

Whether or not you are out should factor into your decisions regarding dating and sex. If one person in a relationship is out and another is not things can become very strained. Many LGBTQ+ home students come out while at school or university and they may not want to hide their relationships. If you are not out think carefully about who you date or sleep with.

Where to get contraception?

Contraception and sexual health care is free and easy to access for young people. The easiest way to get contraception is to pick up some free condoms at Freshers’ Week. You can also get free condoms through the NHS or purchase them from a supermarket or health and beauty store like Boots or Superdrug.

You can get other types of contraception, such as pills and patches, for free through the NHS. Visit your local sexual health clinic to get or renew a prescription, and to consult with a medical professional about which type of contraception is best for you. You can learn more about contraception in the UK here.

What is the morning after pill?

The morning after pill, also known as “Plan B,” is a type of emergency contraception for women. Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if the contraception you have used has failed – for example, if a condom broke or you forget to take your daily contraceptive pill. It is not meant to be taken as a routine form of birth control.

There are two brands of morning after pills: Levonelle and ellaOne. Levonelle can be taken within 72 hours (three days) of having unprotected sex and costs about £25; EllaOne can be taken within 120 hours (five days) of having unprotected sex and costs around £35. However, the sooner you take the pill, the more effective it will be, so you should not wait.

Where to get the morning after pill?

You can get the morning after pill for free from contraception clinics, Brook centres, some pharmacies, most sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, most NHS walk-in centres and minor injuries units, most GP surgeries, and some hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments. You can also purchase it from most pharmacies and from some organisations such as bpas or Marie Stopes.

If you are scared to ask for the morning after pill you can bring a friend with you or even ask a friend to pick it up for you. The person behind the counter should be polite and respectful to you. Tell them when you had unprotected sex and whether or not you have any allergies; this will help them give you the right medication.

The morning after pill can cause headaches and stomach aches. The NHS advises that you see a GP, pharmacist, or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic if you vomit within two hours of taking Levonelle or three hours of taking ellaOne. The morning after pill does not cause serious or permanent side effects.

It is very important to note that emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. Both Levonelle and ellaOne delay the release of an egg, making it impossible for you to become pregnant. They do not terminate a pregnancy; they prevent a pregnancy from ever even starting.

You may also want to read

Where to get contraception

The UK dating scene

Coming out at university