Family, Relationships & Sex

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 Contraception

Contraception is essential to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to protect against sexually transmitted infections (“STIs”).

There are many contraceptive options, but condoms are the only contraception method that protects against STIs (including HIV). Get free condoms from the Student Health Service, or the Bristol Sexual Health Services. If you are under 25, you can register for a C-Card – so you can get free condoms in many places around Bristol.

Many people use other methods of contraception too. These include the combined pill, coil/IUD, mini pill, contraceptive injection or implant. The best method for you will depend on personal factors, so discuss it with the Student Health Service or your GP.

No contraception method is 100% effective, and accidents (split condoms, missed pills...) do happen. Emergency contraception ("the morning after pill”) can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Get emergency contraception from the Student Health Service, or over the counter from most pharmacies (you may have to pay for it if you are over 25). Act quickly: emergency contraception is most effective in the first 24 hours after unprotected sex.

 Pregnancy

Think you might be pregnant?

Get a free pregnancy test at the Student Health Service, or you can buy a home pregnancy test at most pharmacies. You can do most pregnancy tests any time from the date your last period was due.

If you are pregnant, the next step is to decide whether to continue with your pregnancy or to end it. Unplanned pregnancies, and the mixed feelings they can generate, can be really confusing and stressful. But there are sources of help available:

  • talk things over with a trusted friend or family member who knows you and your situation well
  • Marie Stopes have a telephone and face to face counselling service, which may help you to understand your feelings towards your pregnancy

Be wary of searching online for pregnancy advice: some organisations advertising “impartial” advice are actually strongly anti-abortion. They might pressure you into continuing with your pregnancy even if you’re not sure that's the right decision for you. This is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can make it.

Ending a Pregnancy

For some students, having a baby just isn’t an option. If you decide to end your pregnancy, seek support as soon as possible. Your GP is a good person to talk to first, or you can get a referral for an abortion through the following channels:

Continuing with a pregnancy

Having a baby as a student might seem a completely overwhelming prospect, but it is possible. Here's the University's guidance for students having a child. If you don’t feel able to raise a child, but don’t want to end the pregnancy, then adoption is a further option. Don’t forget that you can speak to a Just Ask adviser at any point during either process about how it will affect your studies.

Support available

  • The National Childbirth Trust (“NCT”) works with parents through pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood. They offer antenatal classes at a reduced rate for students. They have a Bristol branch.
  • Most students don’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (“SMP”). If you don’t qualify for SMP, you may qualify for Maternity Allowance. Check your eligibility by reading the Government’s guidance on benefits for expectant families (here).
  • You may be entitled to a Sure Start Maternity Grant, which is a one-off payment designed to help with maternity and baby items.

Impact on studies

The University allows students to suspend their studies in certain situations. The procedure varies between faculties and depends on whether you are a postgraduate or undergraduate student. Check your course handbook, or speak with a Just Ask adviser, who can help you through the process. Speak to the Student Funding Office to discuss the funding implications of suspending your studies.

After the birth

You may be eligible for help with your learning costs if you’re a full-time student with children. This is called Parents’ Learning Allowance.

The University has an excellent day nursery, accepting children from 3 months old. There's limited places, and a waiting list, so apply as soon as possible.

If you have suspended your studies, keep in contact with the University whilst you are away. For help readjusting to study on your return to University, speak to your personal tutor or a Just Ask adviser.

Student Parents is a great website offering tips and advice on how to juggle being a mum or dad with being a student. You could also join the SU's student parents' network - a great way to meet other students with children in a child-friendly and social atmosphere. 

Adoption

Adoption means giving your baby new legal parents. Once an adoption order is made, it cannot be undone. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering is a national charity offering support through adoption. They can advise you who to contact in the local area.

Men’s rights and pregnancy

  • If a woman chooses to continue with a pregnancy, the father may be held financially responsible for the upbringing of their child (regardless of their relationship or the role he plays in the child’s life).
  • A woman may choose to have an abortion without her partner’s agreement
  • The biological father’s consent is not always required for an adoption.

Of course men do have the right to avoid unplanned pregnancies, either by not having sex or by using condoms. 

 Sexual Health

With all the myths and conflicting information out there, it’s no wonder that sexual health can feel overwhelming. However, the message is simple: if you are having sex, make sure you’re having safe sex! 

Some tips to stay healthy:

  • use a condom!
  • if you do have unprotected sex, get yourself tested for STIs at a sexual health clinic
  • if you’re thinking about not using condoms with your partner, make sure you both get tested for STIs beforehand. Trust us, this could save a lot of arguments in the long-run.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (“STIs”) can be passed on through a variety of sexual activities. Symptoms vary from person to person, and some may have no noticeable symptoms at all.

Condoms are the only method of contraception capable of preventing STIs, provided they’re used properly. The NHS have information about how to put a condom on properly.

If you are worried that you may have been exposed to HIV, there is treatment available to stop you becoming infected. This is called post-exposure prophylaxis (“PEP”). Terrance Higgins Trust has information about PEP. Some important points to note are:

  • PEP must be taken as soon as possible, and within 72 hours of unsafe sex or a condom not working
  • It isn’t guaranteed to work
  • PEP can have side effects; it involves taking anti-HIV drugs for a month
  • It’s no replacement for using condoms!

Most GPs won’t prescribe PEP, but you can often get it from sexual health clinics in Bristol. If you can’t get to one in time, you can try A&E (which is open 24 hours a day), but there is no guarantee that it will be prescribed for you there.

Getting tested

If you think you may have an STI, or could have been infected (whether or not you have any symptoms), it’s important to get tested by a medical professional. Sexual health testing is actually quick and painless.

The Student Health Service is also a specialist sexual health clinic, and can test for a variety of STIs, including (but not limited to) HIV, hepatitis, gonnorhoea and chlamydia. Their services are completely confidential.  

You can get tested at any other sexual health clinic. Here's a list of sexual health clinics in Bristol. Some offer walk-in services, which are good if you want to be seen urgently, or don’t want to have to make an appointment.

For more information on sexual health, call the Bristol Sexual Health helpline on 0117 342 6900 (open 9am - 5pm, charged at local rates).

If you have an STI

Your doctor will explain the medical side of things to you, but if you need additional support, talk to one of these services:

  • Brook Advisory have a helpline you can call about pretty much anything that’s on your mind: 0808 802 1234.
  • The Terrence Higgins Trust can help anyone affected by HIV or AIDS in loads of different ways, from online counselling to group therapy sessions.
  • The University’s Counselling Service can support you in a range of ways with any problems, worries or thoughts you might be having.

 Break-ups

Breaking up with a partner is often a stressful and upsetting time. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, there is support out there. You can speak to:

  • your GP (who can also refer you to other sources of support if needed)
  • the University’s Counselling Service
  • your personal tutor
  • if you’re in halls, a Senior Resident
  • If it's affecting your studies, chat to a Just Ask Adviser

If the break-up affects... your studies

If your studies are affected, speak to your personal tutor so the University knows the problems you’re having. If your performance is suffering, submit extenuating circumstances.


If the break-up affects... your health

If your mental or physical health is affected, check out our page about mental health for advice and sources of support.


Who to notify if payment arrangements change

  • gas, electricity, water and any other utility (internet, phone, etc) companies
  • landlord/letting agent
  • mortgage lender
  • bank or building society (if you have a joint account)
  • council tax office
  • hire purchase or credit companies
  • benefits office
  • insurance companies

If the break-up affects... your money

If your partner has been supporting you, consider how you will continue to fund your studies and support yourself.

Speak to the Student Funding Office about the impact of your break up on your student funding. You can also ask them about additional support which may be available from the Access to Learning Fund.

You will probably need to inform several organisations about your new status/arrangements. For example, do you need to contact any of the organisations listed on the right?


If the break-up affects... your home

If you have been living together, you'll be thinking about whether one or both of you should move out. It’s incredibly difficult to keep living together after breaking up. If you live in private rented accommodation, you can speak to the University’s Accommodation Office about leaving your tenancy early. If you (or your partner) own your home, things can get tricky: speak to a legal adviser (you can find one here), call the Shelter advice line on 0808 800 4444, or contact your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Shelter have a guide to housing issues following a break up, here


If the break-up affects... your children

You and your partner will need to decide how your children will be looked after going forward, and where they will live. Government advice on how to prepare children for separation, and next steps if you are separating, is available here.

You will need to arrange child maintenance. You and your partner might be able to arrange this between you. If you can’t come to an agreement you can ask the Child Support Agency (“CSA”) or the courts to make arrangements for you. You can apply to the CSA here.


If the break-up affects... your marriage or civil partnership

If you are married, you'll need to get a divorce in order to dissolve the marriage. The Government has a guide to divorce. It is possible to do without instructing solicitors (see here for more details). Here's the government guide on dissolving a civil partnership. If you feel you need legal representation, you may be eligible for Legal Aid