We unconsciously look after our health daily; looking both ways before crossing, wearing a seatbelt and wearing sunscreen; so why is it “I’ll take the chances” with our sexual health?
20 year old university student Josh, like many of us, has found himself in this sort of situation before where the thoughts of having ‘the conversation’ were looming over the whole night,
“The date had gone really well, and he asked me back to his, the thought was in my mind to have the conversation about wearing protection, but I struggled to find the right moment without ruining the mood,
I just felt awkward, it felt like I was insinuating that I had something or that I thought he did.
“It really limited my enjoyment as it was in the back of mind the whole time, and now I’m worried that I might have caught something”.
When we reached out to our readers, we were inundated with people saying that they have been in scenarios just like this and have felt the same way. We realised we needed to help with this, so here’s what you should know for the next time you find yourself in this situation?
Condoms are the only contraceptive available for the protection from STIs. So, yes, being on the pill, IUD, or implant may reduce your risk of pregnancy, but to truly protect yourself from contracting an STI, you should be reaching for a condom.
You can get free condoms from:
- Contraception clinics
- Some GP surgeries
- Sexual health or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics
- Some youth clubs and centres
That’s not to say you still shouldn’t be testing yourself annually; external condoms with perfect use are 98% effective if we factor in some condoms ripping or breaking, and with typical use, they are only 82% effective, this means 18 in 100 won’t be fully protected from STI’s.
We spoke to Dr Naomi Sutton, Consultant Physician in sexual health for the NHS at Rotherham Sexual Health Services and the E4’s Doctor on the TV series ‘The Sex Clinic’.
We asked her from her experience in the field of sexual health why she believes this conversation around STIs has become such a difficult one,
“I think we’re better at discussing contraception because no one wants an unwanted pregnancy, but bringing STIs into conversation then kind of makes it feel ‘well I’m either telling them that I may have an STI if I want to use a condom or that you may have an STI’
and no one wants to be seen in that club which is again ridiculous”.
According to the NHS, chlamydia is the most common STI, with about 50% of men and 70% of women who are infected not showing any symptoms yet
Dr Sutton still deals with this
“A lot about ‘yeah, but I’m clean’, or ‘she looked dirty’ . It’s not a matter of your personal hygiene.
“We could all have STI’s without knowing that we’ve got it. Every single STI could be present without any symptoms so unless you’re testing you don’t know”.
This then begs the question, if we can have any of these STIs without knowing it, how often should we be getting tested?
Dr Sutton has a clever solution
“People should use the STI clinic like the dentist, so you go every 6 months 12 months depending on how many partners you are having, and if we can normalise testing, it’s normalising that human beings want to have sex”.
How to get tested
All you have to do is order through their website; answer the questions to specify the tests to your individual needs.The test kit is then delivered directly to your door in discreet packaging.
Everything you need to take the samples is in the package; you then post them back and get your results and support via text messaging within 72 hours of the samples being received.
If positive, they will inform you of your treatment options and, if available, will send the treatment through the post.
The government website has records of annual STI screening and diagnosis numbers. It shows that in 2021 the number of tests being carried out for STIs increased by 18.7% from 2019, so we’re slowly heading in the right direction.
The conversation doesn’t always have to hone in on the stigma that society has given it; looking after your sexual health is as important as looking after any kind of your health.
It isn’t something that anyone but you has a choice over. Dr Sutton emphasises to her patients that
“It’s about power and knowing it’s totally your right, it’s your body you should never let anybody do anything.
“You know, the whole consent issue is massive; you should never let anyone do something you’re not comfortable with, and part of that is protecting yourself because if you do not use a condom.
“You wake up the next day and go, crap what did I do that for, that’s a really bad sign that you know you either weren’t in the right mind or you didn’t feel comfortable enough to you know be able to bring it up so you know, wrong partner.”
“We need to do some self-love, self-digging, self-understanding, self-reflection, think about and own it and go in and be like, no, I am right for wanting to use a condom, and then it will come across better.”
23 year old university student Rosie embodies this and says she no longer dreads these unnecessarily tricky conversations and that she has mastered the responses to give when faced with these encounters; her go to reply is,
“We can use a condom or not have sex. It’s up to you?
“Saying this makes it non-negotiable, and then the decision is left to the other person, without having to dig into the topic of STIs and pregnancy”.
She says that sometimes she does like to have a bit more fun, saying things like “No raincoat, no sunshine”, and to the common excuse, it doesn’t feel as good “I simply say well, I think gonorrhoea would feel worse”.
Sex is normal, and so are STIs, and both are always going to be a part of our lives, so arm yourself with the facts and never be afraid to stand your ground.
Edited by Mmesoma Muogilim