What Should You Know About Birth Control on Your College Campus?
Birth control has helped students stay in school and finish their degrees. Before starting your first semester, learn how to access birth control on campus or off. Plan ahead and avoid risky unprotected sex.
What should college students know about birth control access on campus?
Less than half of high school students in the United States receive any form of sex education, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So some young people don't begin college with solid birth control information. They may not know where to find access to contraception.
An estimated 94 percent of college students are sexually active, according to a 2022 College Health Services and Study report. Understanding birth control and how to have safer sex is critical for pregnancy prevention and reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
"Many college campuses around the U.S. offer free or low-cost healthcare to their students, including access to women's health services and birth control," said Kristin Mallon, C.N.M., R.N., a board-certified nurse midwife in New York, and co-founder and CEO of menopause treatment service FemGevity Health.
Understanding birth control and how to have safer sex is critical for pregnancy prevention and reducing the risk of STIs.
Many colleges and universities offer a range of birth control options on campus, including condoms, hormonal birth control pills, patches, injections and intrauterine devices (IUDs), according to Martha Tara Lee, D.H.S., an AASECT-certified sex educator and clinical sexologist with Eros Coaching in Singapore.
"Some schools may also offer emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, and counseling services related to sexual health and contraception. It's important for students to research what options are available at their school and how to access them," Lee said.
It's better to know your options and plan ahead now before you need a form of contraception.
While some schools offer free healthcare to students, including birth control, others require students to be on their own or their parent's insurance plans, said Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Florida, a certified sex therapist in Gainesville, Florida, and the author of the book "Becoming Cliterate."
For some students, having their parents see the insurance statement could be a privacy issue, Mintz said.
The cost of reproductive healthcare can also be a barrier.
"Some schools charge a small fee for each visit. So for these students, money can be an issue," Mintz said.
That's when knowing your birth control options and costs come in handy.
What are common birth control myths and misconceptions?
Condoms, birth control pills and the withdrawal method are the three top kinds of birth control among college students, according to a 2022 survey. But the withdrawal method is not the best choice for every student.
The withdrawal method is roughly 80 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and cannot prevent STIs, according to Australia's Sexual Health Victoria.
Another myth is that birth control pills are the only option when there is a range of available birth control methods, Mallon said.
Contraceptives aren't common knowledge. For example, community college students make up one-third of all college students. These students wanted to prevent pregnancy but lacked the information to do so, suggested a 2018 study.
Multiple barriers exist around the use of birth control and its side effects. But there is also a lack of knowledge and too much misinformation, such as believing that birth control is ineffective, IUDs cause infertility and birth control pills cause cancer, Mintz said.
These birth control myths may cause students to derail pregnancy prevention strategies.
Where can you go for sexual healthcare on campus?
External condoms don't require a prescription. Beginning next year, neither will hormonal birth control. Earlier in 2023, the FDA approved an over-the-counter birth control pill, Opill (norgestrel). Opill will hit retailer shelves in early 2024.
Otherwise, students can go to their health center for a prescription and to decide which method is best for them.
"Many colleges have health centers where providers can prescribe birth control," Mintz said.
Student health centers may offer additional sexual health services, including:
- STI testing
- Emergency contraception
- Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
Since the U.S. Supreme Court essentially overturned Roe v. Wade (1973) with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, some colleges provide vending machines on their campuses that dispense emergency contraception. Thirty-nine higher education institutions in 17 states have added these specialized vending machines since the summer of 2023, according to USA Today.
Where can you go for sexual healthcare off campus?
If you can't access birth control at your student health center or you need to fill in the gap before you can get your IUD or you don't want your parent's insurance to know, there are a few options for finding off-campus contraceptive care.
There are plenty of brands that offer birth control prescriptions via telehealth.
"Many college towns have Planned Parenthood Centers, another great place to get birth control. They even offer telehealth appointments to discuss birth control." Mintz said.
Look for family planning services in your area. It pays to plan ahead.
Do you need health insurance to access birth control through your school?
In some states, you can access free or low-cost reproductive and sexual healthcare services if you do not have insurance. However, most fully insured student health plans offer contraception access.
If your student health plan is self-insured, it might not be required to cover contraceptive services, but it's up to states to regulate self-insured student health plans, according to KFF.
How does birth control access help college students ensure future success?
About 61 percent of community college students who have children while in school don't finish their degree, a 2015 report suggested. Birth control directly addresses the fact that most college students are sexually active. It allows these students the opportunity to be proactive about their future goals.
"When students can take charge of their own healthcare, they unlock a wider array of opportunities for success," Mallon said.
While birth control is regarded for preventing pregnancy, it can also help mitigate health conditions.
"Some forms of birth control can help manage symptoms of conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, which can impact academic performance," Lee said.
The bottom line
"The research is clear that unwanted pregnancy is a stressful event, leading to depression and anxiety—and both of these can be detrimental to one's ability to focus on other life tasks, including studying and engaging in college life," Mintz said.
Many student health plans offer contraceptive services via campus health centers. If your school does not, there are options. Consider Planned Parenthood, contraception through a parent's insurance, over-the-counter birth control pills (when they become available in 2024) or online birth control prescriptions via telehealth.
Birth control education can help college students stay in school and know their options.