(Emotionally) safer sex

set of condoms

Sexual relationships involve emotional vulnerability. We asked more than 300 students how they feel about this and how they protect themselves from potential hurt.

1 in 3 students (67 percent) pointed to the value of clear communication:

“Any time I become sexually active with a new partner, I am letting that person get to know me on a deep intimate level. I am more emotionally vulnerable as a result.”
—Sharon G.*, first-year graduate student, Marymount University, Virginia

“In our society, I feel that the expectation is that sexual activity is an emotionless act when in fact the opposite is true. Having sex is an act of passion. Whether driven by lust or love, passion is still dictating your actions. It’s hard not to be vulnerable in that type of situation.”
—Greg V.*, second-year graduate student, Illinois State University

More than half of students (54 percent) said they manage their expectations:

“If one is able to [develop] a set of expectations that are not too high, there could not be any chance of excess vulnerability.”
—Heidi M., third-year student, University of Maine

4 out of 10 students (44 percent) said they’ve learned from difficult experiences and bring that knowledge
to future relationships:

“I had a one night stand with an ex-girlfriend that left me emotionally drained and regretful. We were both damaged by the experience.”
—Grant D.*, second-year graduate student, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

3 out of 10 students stay abstinent or
avoid sexual activity:

“No, I honestly haven’t [experienced vulnerability from sex]. I’m at the end of a
six-month vow of celibacy.”
—Tomas D*., fifth-year student, Towson University, Maryland

About 15 percent of students said they almost deliberately don’t invest in the relationship:

“I do not get attached to many people. They come and go, and that’s life.”
—Nickolas R., second-year student, Illinois State University

*  Name changed for privacy

Other strategies that students use:

Specific strategies for managing difficult feelings,
such as mindfulness techniques
30%
Talking with trusted friends or family members52%
Talking with a counselor13%

Source: Student Health 101 survey, January 2015

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Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.