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Back to School Wellness 

After a year of virtual lectures in sweats, many college students are preparing to ditch class in pajamas, close the computer, and come back into a setting that suddenly feels unfamiliar. This can bring up a whole new slew of concerns about the Delta variant stacked on top of the stress of transitioning back into an in-person environment. There’s still a lot to consider when approaching the new semester, especially when it comes to personal health and wellness during an ongoing pandemic. That’s why we talked with PPMW’s Education Coordinator, Victoria Ogunleye, and Krystian Jones, Nurse Practitioner, to quell some stress, prep for a new school year, and strut into the semester with confidence. 

Sexual Health

It is so important to seriously consider your sexual health as you think about how you can be safe during the pandemic. This means get tested! It’s the only exam you don’t need to study for and it is crucial for your overall well being. 

This sounds like a big scary thing, but trust, it isn’t. Victoria suggests getting creative about how you check your partner’s sexual health.

 “I always say, make a date out of it. So if you're with a new partner and you all realize it's been a while since you've been tested, find resources and then say, okay, let's get coffee and get tested, then go. It doesn’t have to be the bulk of your day, it's just focusing on getting tested and waiting for your results.” 

If you’re going to steal this idea, I *highly* recommend The Village Coffee, conveniently located steps away from the 4th street health center. 

Krystian said that most of the people that come into the health center do not even have a full understanding of their sexual health and the possible consequences that can come from neglecting it.

“I can say that I've seen a lot of people not really understand what sexually transmitted diseases are, what they can do, what the harm is, what the STD is, what is this exactly, what are the signs and symptoms.”

If this is you, that’s totally okay, but taking steps forward to learn more about your sexual wellbeing is important for your overall health and the health of your partners. It’s important to get tested regularly and take care of yourself because there could be permanent consequences.

“Some of them [STD’s] can cause just some permanent damage to your body and you don't get another body,” Krystian adds “I really can't say it enough, using condoms, asking questions, getting tested, looking at your partner's genitals. That's okay. If you're going to be down there doing whatever you do then just take a look.”

Maintaining your sexual health can feel intimidating but, as a student, there are resources available to make it realistic and manageable.

 Victoria says, “I know things like insurance and access have a lot to play into where you can get tested, but there are also a lot of free testing sites within the DC area, especially for you, especially if someone who's on campus where they can definitely utilize that. ” 

Body Bill of Rights

Your first assignment of the semester is to create your  own body bill of rights. Chances are, whether you know it or not, this is something you’ve started to develop. 

A body bill of rights is created when you take control over your body, set boundaries, and decide what you are and are not okay with in regards to your body, even if it’s not sexual. 

Victoria says,  “Your own body bill of rights, is where you literally say, I have the right to refuse a hug. I have the right to refuse a kiss. I have the right to not let someone talk about my clothes. So just instilling those rights within you so that when you walk into the school atmosphere, you already have your strong foundation. This is what I can do, what I accept and what I don't accept.”

This is particularly important in this current moment when not everyone has the same sense of boundaries with the pandemic still raging. Both in a college setting and in life, having an idea of what you’re comfortable with is crucial in creating boundaries and exploring safe, healthy relationships, sexual or otherwise.

If you’re not sure where to start Victoria suggests just that you ask yourself what you like and do not like.

“Think about a time or interaction that you've had with someone that you were interested in dating, or just being around friends; moments that you enjoy, that you connect towards your sexuality or healthy relationships, and then maybe moments that you didn't enjoy so much or that hurt you.”

Pro Tip: if you’re searching for a shortcut, just look up a relationship bill of rights and you’ll find templates and adapt it to what you feel comfortable with. 

“We're not reinventing the wheel. The main thing is just modifying it or updating it. So there are rules,” Victoria asserts.

There are some easy ways to get started, by reaching out to your family, friends, or chosen family and having an honest conversation with them. Victoria recommends asking, “Is there anything you noticed that I do, not that I do well, but anything you noticed that I really enjoy?" Like, oh, you realize that like I enjoy giving hugs or is there something you realize that I don't enjoy when you call me five times or something like that.”

Taking the time to learn more about yourself and establish what you feel comfortable with will make it easier to maintain relationships and form new ones.

Consent 

A body bill of rights can go hand and hand with consent. Victoria says the first step of consent is making sure you fully understand it.

“In terms of consent, [begin by] making sure that you have a very good understanding of what consent is. And then also being able to explain it to someone else and what consent is because it breaks down to boundaries and communication. So in order to understand consent, you have to have very direct communication because there's no gray.”

Understanding how to set a boundary is half the battle, it’s important to know what to do if someone breaks that boundary.

Krystian says, “Stating your boundaries, letting your partners know what's acceptable versus what's not acceptable, what the expectations are, what you're going to do but what you're not going to do, what you're uncomfortable with. And it doesn't have to be a rude, mean statement. It can just be politely said like, ’You know, hon, I'm not comfortable with this.’ And that should be fine. No is no. So that's just what it is and just being careful, right, being smart.”

COVID

Implementing the boundaries you’ve set is a mindful way to manage COVID-19 and your sexual health this school year. In addition to keeping yourself physically healthy and navigating campus in a pandemic, setting boundaries and knowing your limits is important for your physical and mental health. Transitioning back to an in-person environment can be scary but it can also be thrilling to seek out new experiences, friendships, and relationships. In doing so, it’s important to remember your comfort levels and implement your boundaries. Victoria stresses that we need to be mindful of COVID and dating, in particular.

“Everyone is at a different level of where they're at as we all continue to live through this pandemic. So even though someone might be willing to be out, that doesn't mean they're willing to be out with their mask off.”

Setting boundaries and being intentional about understanding other people's comfort levels are key when forming new friendships.

Victoria shared an example, “So it's like friends are saying, "Hey, we're going to a game or we're all going to the student center." You can say, ’Hey, cool, I'm coming but please don't get on me for having that mask on. I feel more comfortable with it on. So I appreciate it if you don't do it.’ And then if a boundary is crossed, (you can say) Hey, I told you beforehand that I didn't want to’. So if I feel uncomfortable, I'm going to leave them. And knowing that you can leave at any time, you don't have to stay anywhere that you're uncomfortable.”

Being open is a large part of navigating this new college experience. Krystian stresses that having open conversations with people is a way to start.

 “Let them know what your boundaries are. Put yourself in very safe situations and just really being aware, right. Just being aware, being alert, paying attention. That's really the big thing.”

Tags: consent, getting tested, covid-19

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