For many students, the college years are a time of sexual and romantic exploration. These explorations are now complicated by the reality of COVID-19, and new sexual health risks related to physical contact. However, whether you’re sexually active or not – or are exploring your gender or sexual orientation, or facing a particular issue or concern – we encourage you to rely on Cornell Health for your sexual health care needs, and seek our support to help sustain your emotional health and well-being [see Sexual Health Care].
Cornell Health is here for all students. We appreciate the diversity of our students’ identities, experiences, backgrounds, and choices, and are committed to meeting your individual needs with compassion and respect. Please visit our Who We Are page to learn more about our values.
COVID-specific sexual health resources
- American Sexual Health Association: Sex in COVID-19
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC): Sex During the COVID-19 Health Emergency
- NYC Health: COVID Sex Guide
- Planned Parenthood: COVID-19 and Your Sexual Health
Learn more about topics we address at Cornell Health:
Sexual health care (general)
Cornell Health provides confidential resources in support of students’ sexual health – whether you need a routine checkup, a prescription for birth control, or assistance with a problem related to your reproductive health or sexual well-being.
Consultation with our sexual health nurses can help you explore options for safer sex and pregnancy prevention, and consider whether STI screening may be helpful for you and your partner(s) (see more below).
Questions about confidentially – included related to billing? Visit our Confidentiality & Patients Rights page.
Birth control & pregnancy testing / support
Contraception (birth control)
There are many contraceptive options available from Cornell Health, including condoms (both sheath and pouch), diaphragms, IUDs (intrauterine devices), and hormonal birth control pills, "mini-pills", patches, shots, implants, and rings. Some require a clinician visit for a prescription, and some can be purchased without a prescription at the Cornell Health Pharmacy.
If you want to discuss your options with a sexual health nurse, you can schedule a free "Contraceptive Options" appointment (available to students of any sex or gender; couples are welcome). If you choose a method that requires a prescription (such as birth control pills), a follow-up appointment and evaluation with a Cornell Health clinician will be necessary to obtain a birth control prescription.
Emergency contraception (EC)
Emergency contraceptives can be used if you have had unprotected vaginal sex (or contraception failure during vaginal sex) in the last 5 days (120 hours) and don't want to become pregnant. View our fact sheet (pdf).
Available without a prescription:
- Progestin-only emergency contraception such as "Plan B," "Plan B One Step," "Next Choice," and "Levonorgestrel Tablets" are available at our Cornell Health pharmacy without a prescription. These are recommended for individuals who have had unprotected sex within the past 3 days, and/or those of average body weight/mass (BMI< 26). [calculate your BMI]
Available with a prescription:
- Ulipristal acetate contraceptive (called "ella") requires a prescription, which can be obtained following a free nurse consultation at Cornell Health (see Appointments). Ella is recommended for individuals who had unprotected sex 4 or 5 days ago, those who had unprotected sex close to ovulation (mid-cycle), and/or those of heavier body weight/mass (BMI > 26). [calculate your BMI]
- The emergency insertion of a copper IUD (intrauterine device) up to 5 days after unprotected sex can reduce the risk of pregnancy by 99%. The Copper-T IUD is also a highly-effective method of regular contraception, and it can be left in place for up to 10 years following insertion. The copper IUD is recommended for individuals who are looking for a reliable form of ongoing birth control, those who do not have an active infection of chlamydia or gonorrhea, and/or those with weight/mass of over 35 (BMI< 35). [calculate your BMI]
Home pregnancy testing kits are available at our Cornell Health pharmacy. Pregnancy testing is also available with our nursing staff at Cornell Health (free for students studying on the Ithaca campus). Walk-in appointments are often available, but we recommend calling ahead to schedule an appointment (607-255-5155). The pregnancy test is conducted by taking a urine sample that is sent to Cornell Health's lab. It takes about an hour to get results. You can wait for the results, or a nurse can call you once the report is back.
Pregnancy options support and referrals
A positive pregnancy test is certain to generate many thoughts and feelings, whether it's an unsettling surprise, or just the news you've been hoping for. Sometimes deciding what to do about a pregnancy is easy. Other times, it’s difficult or complicated. Your decision is very personal, and everyone’s situation is different. You’re the only person who can truly know what feels right for you, so the decision is 100% yours. Accurate information and support helps, but only you can know what’s best for you.
Sources of support:
Students can seek support through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Talking with your partner, someone in your family, a friend, a trusted religious or spiritual advisor, or a counselor about unplanned pregnancy options can also be helpful when you’re trying to figure out what to do. If you’re having a hard time finding someone in your life to talk with, check out All-Options. All-Options has a free talkline that gives you a confidential space to talk about making decisions about a pregnancy. They’ll give you judgement-free support at any point in your pregnancy experience, no matter what choice you make or how you feel about it (call 1-888-493-0092).
Cornell Health partners closely with community providers to refer students for appropriate support. Students who wish to continue a pregnancy can be referred to OBGYN healthcare providers in the community and/or adoption providers. Those seeking pregnancy options counseling and/or abortion services are referred to community organizations such as Planned Parenthood in downtown Ithaca.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – sometimes called "sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)" – are often caused by bacteria or viruses, and typically (though not always) passed from one person to another during sexual contact. Most commonly, STIs are spread most often during unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse. However, some infections – like HPV and herpes – require only skin-to-skin contact.
STIs are very common – more than half of us will get one at some time in our lives. Our sexual health fact sheet (pdf) provides a comprehensive overview of the most common infections. One thing STIs have in common is that they can be passed from one person to another even when no symptoms are present.
The good news is we can protect ourselves, and each, other from infection. Practicing safer sex allows you to reduce your risk of getting an STI. And if you believe you're at risk of infection, getting tested (whether or not you have symptoms) allows you to get any treatments you may need.
You can lower your risk of contracting STIs (and/or unplanned pregnancy) in the following ways:
- Participate in sexual experiences that are respectful, consensual, and affirming
- Talk with your partner about the kinds of sexual experiences you want (and don’t want)
- Assume that any sexual partner has an STI, and plan accordingly for protection
- Visit Cornell Health for safer sex information, supplies, demonstrations, and prescriptions
- Buy safer sex supplies and/or birth control supplies and keep them where they are needed
- Get immunized against Hepatitis A and B, and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) (pdf)
- Consider the risks associated with sex under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs
- Consider the risks associated with sexual activity facilitated by online hook-up apps
- Think about what challenges (if any) make it difficult to maintain your commitment to practicing safer sex, and make plans to circumvent those challenges
- Get support if you feel confused, frustrated, or overwhelmed; Cornell Health staff are available to discuss these and other sexual health issues
Get tested for STIs (pdf) if you think you may have been exposed, whether or not you have symptoms. Our sexual health nurses and clinicians can talk with you about STIs, and help you get any testing or treatment you may need.
College is a time when many people explore and question aspects of their identities – including sex, gender, and emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction.
Students struggling with any aspect of their sexual identity – including gender and orientation, relationships, coming out, etc. – are encouraged to seek support. Cornell Health is here for students of all genders, sexual orientations, and other identities. We will respect your needs, concerns, and personal journey, and will maintain your confidentiality.
Some students find it helpful to talk with a counselor in order to explore and navigate these parts of their lives. When making a counseling appointment, you can request a counselor with expertise in sexuality and/or LGBTQ issues. Transgender students can obtain medical care and counseling through Cornell Health’s Gender Services.
Every relationship is different, yet generally when people feel they are in a healthy romantic and/or sexual relationship, there are some common factors.
Typically, in healthy relationships, individuals …
- are kind, truthful, and treat one another with respect
- respect one another’s needs and desires
- participate in mutually-consensual activities
- focus on both giving and receiving – attending to their partner’s needs as well as their own
- care about and are protective of one another’s physical and emotional well-being
- make space for time together, time apart, and time with friends
- are aware of the (positive and negative) roles alcohol and other drugs, social media, and other peer influences may play in their relationship
Learn more about how to tell the different between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
If you find you are in a relationship in which someone is treating you poorly (disrespecting you, or hurting you emotionally or physically), or if you are finding it hard to establish a relationship with someone you care about, please reach out for support.
Students can schedule an appointment with a Cornell Health counselor, or stop by Let’s Talk. If you have been harassed, sexually assaulted, or experienced unwanted sexual contact – including from a partner or friend – please refer to our Assault & Harassment page for ways to get help.
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) also frequently offers counseling groups on topics related to forming healthy relationships. Group counseling offers a safe environment to discuss problems with others who are dealing with similar concerns. Learn more on our Group Counseling page.