Whether or not we want to admit it, sex is a prominent factor in the lives of college students. According to a 2007 study by the University of Minnesota, approximately 77 percent of college students have been sexually active at some point in their lives. Contraceptives, therefore, are legitimate concerns for many college students—but are students comfortable asking how to access them?
“College is a time of exploration for many students,” said Betsy Lane-Getaz, R.N. at Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). “It’s important that students have options to protect themselves.”
Arguably the most common and easily accessible contraception method on campus is condoms, which are available at SHAC (in the Condom Corner of reception) for a suggested donation of $0.10. Additionally, groups such as AHA! (AIDS/HIV Awareness) allow students to order condoms anonymously, at prices that are lower than in drug stores.
The condoms are then delivered through the mail, in order to ensure confidentiality and potentially allow students to feel more comfortable.
Students seeking other types of birth control also have numerous options on campus. Specifically, female students seeking a prescription for oral contraceptives—more commonly known as “the pill”—can schedule an appointment through SHAC.
Meetings are confidential, and involve a brief description of the student’s health history; students uncertain about what method they are seeking will find plenty of information as well. As long as a student has health insurance, all methods of birth control should be covered under the Affordable Care Act.
“We can send a prescription [for oral contraceptives] to the pharmacy,” explained Lane-Getaz. “With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we can confidently advise women that their insurance will cover it.” SHAC can also help with accessing prescriptions for the patch or for Nuvaring. For uninsured students, SHAC also provides Levora, a type of birth control pill, at $11 per pack, although students need to purchase the pills every month in order for them to be effective.
Through SHAC, Carleton has access to the Minnesota Family Planning Program, which receives grants from the Minnesota State Department to provide free or low-cost birth control. This option is particularly useful for students who do not have private health care, as they will not be eligible for free birth control under the Affordable Care Act. To access the program, students can fill out an application at SHAC; since Carleton is eligible for the program, SHAC can approve the application and order the prescription to a pharmacy. This fund also covers methods such as Depo Provera (“the shot”), and intrauterine devices (IUDs, or “the ring”). For methods such as the latter two, the student can make an appointment at the local Women’s Clinic.
Other less well-known contraceptives offered by SHAC include dental dams, diaphragms, and female condoms. Dental dams, made for any type of oral sex, consist of a sheet of latex that is stretched across the vulva, and can be made from traditional condoms. Female condoms are soft sheaths worn internally to provide a barrier against bodily fluids. Both are available at SHAC.
Finally, SHAC offers Plan B Emergency Contraception, commonly known as “the Morning After Pill,” at $14—significantly cheaper than local pharmacies. Lane-Getaz strongly recommends that female students and their friends purchase one dose of Plan B in case of an emergency. “Accidents can happen, and it is important to have options,” she said, “but also, if there’s ever a situation of sexual assault, you want to be able to protect yourself as well.” Plan B is not recommended for women who take the pill regularly, but otherwise is a highly useful resource.
“It’s important for people to know all the options out there so they can find the most comfortable option for them,” said Mary Reagan Harvey ’14, a Student Wellness Advocate. “Some people love the pill because it is easy while others hate the idea of putting hormones into their body.”
Zoey Gold ’15, also a Student Wellness Advocate, agreed. “Everyone has a different preference for what kind of contraceptive methods they want to use,” she said. “I think it is important to have many options so that people can find exactly what they are comfortable with instead of just settling for the only thing that works.”
Harvey also noted that students might find an additional resource in the website Bedsider.org, which she calls “a great website all about the pros and cons of different birth controls,” noting that the website also offers reminder texts to take oral contraceptives on time.
Ultimately, students at Carleton have a wide variety of birth control methods made available to them, as well as multiple resources including SHAC, the Gender and Sexuality Center, and the SWAs.
“Women—and students on the whole—should be able to control their bodies,” said Lane-Getaz. “They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their sexual expression or worry abut pregnancy risk.”