(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:

“It does become a problem when the people have two different thoughts on the situation. Like one being in it just for the sex but the other one would want a relationship.”
—Nathanael T., second-year undergraduate, Park University, Missouri

“It’s very special to open up to someone in this way, and as a result, I am more emotionally vulnerable. That just means it’s easier to talk about deep topics, socialize with others, and open up to the world around me.”
—Daryn O., first-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver

More than half of students (56 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 undergraduate, University of Maine

4 out of 10 students (43 percent) said they’ve learned from difficult experiences and bring that knowledge
to future relationships:

“I was with a guy that wasn’t right for me, and I didn’t have the clarity of mind to see all the reasons to leave because of the hold he had on me based on our sexual activity. I would characterize that as emotionally vulnerable. I’m much stronger without him.”
—Amber F.*, fourth-year undergraduate student, Wayne State College, Nebraska

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 undergraduate 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 undergraduate, 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

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.