A realistic approach to intimacy

  • Article by: KEVYN BURGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2012 - 3:43 PM

On campus, educators talk about safer, not safe, sex and encourage students to think before they act.

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Every generation believes that they "discovered" sex, and the Millennials are no different.

What goes on when the lights go out might not have changed all that much, but how students talk about -- and, hopefully, prepare for -- sex is changing.

"For students who choose to be sexually active, we say 'condoms plus,'" said Julie Sanem, associate program director at Boynton Health Services at the University of Minnesota. "Condoms plus a secondary method, because nothing works 100 percent of the time. We recommend that they use the pill or an IUD for pregnancy prevention and condoms to prevent STIs."

That's no misprint. "Sexually transmitted infections" has replaced "sexually transmitted diseases" among sex educators.

They've also tweaked the term "safe sex."

"We say safer sex. That acknowledges that there's an inherent risk in all sexual contact," Sanem said. "Every method can fail or there is a risk for an error in the use. The only form of safe sex is abstinence."

Sexual activity on campus is surveyed annually in the College Student Health Survey. More than 12,000 students at 17 Minnesota post-secondary institutions responded in the 2011 study. It found that 77 percent of those surveyed reported being sexually active in the past 12 months, and 12 percent of them said that they used no form of birth control the last time they had intercourse.

Sex educators say that's why they spend a lot of time talking about a relatively new option that revolutionizes birth control by allowing women access to contraception after they have sex.

Plan B was formerly called "the morning after pill," but it isn't necessary to wait until morning to ingest the one-dose regimen. In fact, the sooner a woman takes the backup birth control after having unprotected intercourse, the better. If the emergency contraception is taken within 72 hours, it is 89 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. When taken within 24 hours, Plan B is as much as 95 percent effective.

Plan B, also known as Plan B One Step and Next Choice, is available over the counter and without a prescription for those age 17 or older. It has no effect on a woman who is already pregnant. (It is sometimes confused with RU486, which is an option once conception has occurred. RU486 requires a prescription from a physician and involves medical supervision.)

"Students have a lot of questions about Plan B," said Maggie Ayers-Johnson, a graduate student in the School of Public Health at the U, and a coordinator at SHADE (Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education), a peer education group. She regularly conducts informal sex information sessions in dorms and sorority and fraternity houses.

"We talk about being prepared, but sometimes they aren't," she said. "We know unplanned -- and unwanted -- sex happens."

Plan B varies in cost. It is free at some clinics, and costs between $25 and $60 at pharmacies.

"The cost is one reason why it is a plan B, not plan A," said Ayers-Johnson. "Students say, 'If this is so effective and easy to get, why shouldn't we use it as contraception?' It's not meant for that. But more to the point, we want students to come up with a responsible plan."

Kevyn Burger of Minneapolis is a broadcaster, podcaster and freelance writer.

  • COMING THIS WEEK

    Fourth in a six-part series. Upcoming stories will include:

    Thursday: Technological distractions.

    Saturday: Avoiding constant contact.

    Read more online at startribune.com/backtocollege.

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