Are we too blasé about sexual health?

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We need to get one thing straight from the very beginning: sexual health is not just a woman’s issue. Several articles I’ve read recently concerning the rising number of STIs amongst young people seem to focus mainly on the female half of the population. I’m looking at you Flora Carr, Guardian writer, who asks: “Why are young women playing Russian Roulette with their sexual health?” In her defence, the article is centred on the idea that the pill can give women more sexual freedom, but the question above doesn’t make it clear that sexual health is something everyone should be concerned about, not just young women on the pill.

Statistics given out by the NHS paint a bleak picture. They state that young people aged 16–24 accounted for more than 60% of chlamydia cases in 2011, and more than 40% for herpes. Clearly this is a serious problem, and it seems that an attitude of “well, it won’t happen to me” is permeating a lot of campuses across the country. The problem is that it could, and you might not even know about it. Lots of these STIs don’t carry obvious symptoms, but can lead to serious health problems later in life. So – as you’ve been told ever since you were old enough to hear about the birds and the bees – if you do have sex without protection, go and get yourself checked. And that’s the infomercial part of this article over.

The reasons why we should use condoms are fairly obvious, especially when looking at the statistics above. Even scarier, over 3,000 people were diagnosed as HIV positive in 2013. Sexual health is not a joke and should not be treated as something that can be taken lightly. Okay, so it might be a little difficult to take it seriously when most of your memories of being taught about condoms involved your teacher rolling one onto a banana. There’s a persistent rumour that condoms spoil the moment and therefore they shouldn’t be used. You know what does spoil the moment? Getting the clap. Nothing kills the mood like an STI. If the two of you are so sure that condoms do ruin the moment, do something else until you’ve gotten yourselves checked out. Then you can have all the condom-free sex you like. But for one night stands and casual encounters, unless your partner produces a certificate to say they’re STI free before you head to the bedroom (that would be weird), using a condom is a no-brainer.

Of course we all know that it’s not just STIs that condoms protect against; clearly they also prevent unwanted pregnancy. Most people who wouldn’t think about using a condom are probably on the pill (again coming back to the fallacy that this is woman’s issue), but even the pill isn’t 100% effective. If you’re taking other medications, such as certain antibiotics, it can reduce the effectiveness of your contraception. If you haven’t taken it on time, which is probably going to happen if you’re on a boozy night out with friends, or you’ve been sick (tactical chunder, anyone?), then it’s effectiveness is seriously limited, if not compromised altogether.

There’s no need to be paranoid about all this, but being emotionally mature enough to have sex there also comes the added responsibility of being mature enough to care for your health. After the million or so adverts about it, you would be stupid to not wear a seatbelt in a car because “oh, it won’t happen to me”. So when considering your sexual health you should have the same approach. This goes for men as well as women; just because you’re not responsible for taking a contraceptive doesn’t mean you can forget about the whole thing. It takes two to make a baby. In the end, being sensible when it comes to your sex life might sound boring to begin with, but it’s a lot more fun in the long run.

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