It’s almost here – spring break! Many of you have been slammed with exams the past few weeks, and now it’s finally time for a mental break at this half-way point in the semester. Whether you’re traveling to a sunny destination or just heading home to see family and friends, we at Valley Women’s Clinic want you to have a safe spring break, keeping in mind the importance of protecting yourself and looking out for your friends.
SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
We’ve all heard of the stereotypical “girls gone wild” on spring break trips to the beach. And while this can be the extreme, there is some truth to this portrayal. According to the American Medical Association, popular cities for spring break trips typically report significant increases in alcohol-related arrests, injuries, sexual assaults and even deaths during that time period. This and other studies have shown that spring break involves higher levels of drinking, unprotected sex and even sexual assault than at other times in the year.
One study found that on spring break trips, men drank a 64% higher number of drinks during break over number of drinks they would drink in a typical week. For women that increase was 31%.
During spring break, approximately 42% of students get drunk on at least 1 day, with 11% reporting that they drank to the point of blacking out or passing out on at least one day, according to another study.
When consuming alcohol, especially these increased amounts on spring break, both men and women are more likely to engage in casual sexual behavior. In fact, in one study 53% of students reported that during spring break their sexual decisions were influenced by alcohol, and 44% reported having sex as a direct result of drinking. This study also found that most students who’d had sex on spring break said they’d had sex with someone they had known for less than one week.
Casual sex, especially with someone that you may have just met, can dramatically increase your risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, one study found that 74% of men and 87% of women rarely or never worried about STIs while on spring break. While condoms can provide some protection against some STIs, they don’t eliminate the risk.
Studies have shown that not only is casual sex more common on spring break, but very often, it’s also unprotected sex. One poll found that nearly 3 out of 5 women know friends who had unprotected sex during spring break. Further, according to one study, 77% of students who had sex on spring break reported rarely or never using a condom. Many times, these students reported not using condoms because of their drinking.
So even if you and your partner do use a condom, you’re still putting yourself at risk for potential STIs, an unplanned pregnancy, and regret. One study found that 68% of students regretted having sex after drinking while on spring break.
Heavy drinking during spring break can lead to even more devastating outcomes, such as sexual assault. While this statistic is not specific to spring break week, an estimated 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape each year. While on spring break, 12% of women reported feeling forced or pressured into sex, according to the American Medical Association. And when alcohol is involved, victims are less likely to identify the experience as rape.
You may have heard the devastating story from last year of the girl who was publicly gang-raped on spring break in Panama City, Florida. Stories like this, as well as the sobering statistics mentioned above, highlight the potential risk for sexual assault to occur on spring break trips.
WAYS TO STAY SAFE
So, with all these potential risks involved with heavy drinking during spring break, it’s important to think through how you are going to stay safe. Here are our three tips for how to do that:
MAKE A PLAN BEFORE YOU GO
Think through your trip before you leave and decide about what behaviors you will and will not participate in. Are you planning to drink? If so, how much? Track your drinks and know your limit. Are you going in order to have a good time with your friends or are you looking to have a romantic fling? While we would advise against a spring break hook up, you need to decide what boundaries you will have with someone you may meet.
HAVE FRIENDS HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE
Share your plan with your friends and ask them to help you stick to the decisions you’ve made about what you do and don’t want to do. Offer that they can be tough on you if necessary. Having friends to hold you accountable will hopefully help you avoid risky decisions and regret.
USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM
In addition to talking to friends before you go and asking them to help you, reduce your vulnerability by sticking together while you’re on your trip. Go and leave places together. Look out for each other. Watch each other’s backs and drinks. This video shows how easy it is for someone to slip something into a drink. If you know your friend has been drinking past the point of making good decisions, don’t let them leave with someone they don’t know.
For other alcohol safety tips, check out our article.
We at Valley Women’s Clinic hope that these tips will help you and your friends to have a great and safe spring break! But if, when you get back, you find yourself in need of our free and confidential services, know that we are here for you.
We provide free pregnancy testing as well as free STI testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Request an appointment at our Blacksburg or Radford clinic.