Academic & Welfare Officer Amy Foxton

The importance of looking after your sexual health

There are some things people are reluctant to discuss or talk about. Chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) probably come fairly high up on the list. And yes, campaigning on sexual health and ordering thousands of condoms is probably the part of my job description I omit when talking to my grandparents.

Your sexual health, however, is vitally important. HIV and AIDS may have faded from the media’s radar, but they certainly haven’t disappeared. Every day, 20 people in the UK are diagnosed as being HIV positive. There’s also been a shift in the groups diagnosed with HIV; since 2003 it has been heterosexual sex, rather than homosexual sex, that has been responsible for the majority of new HIV diagnoses in this country.

Complacency about the risks of HIV and other STIs is perhaps to blame for the consistently rising number of new cases that are being diagnosed. In 2004 there were 7,275 new reported cases of HIV in the UK, which was nearly double the number reported for 2000, at 3,851.

Many people mistakenly believe that they will escape STIs; for many it takes the shock of finding out that someone they know has contracted an STI for them to change their habits and always use a condom. There’s no excuse not to, free condoms are readily available (from me, from the Student Centre reception in Goodricke, from College Welfare reps or from Nightline) and there should be no need to feel embarrassed about asking for them – they can also be sent via internal mail if you request them by email, should you feel embarassed about requesting them in person.

Over 30,000 young people were surveyed during the summer as part of MTV and Radio One’s Bare All Survey. It revealed that 38% of people don’t always use a condom with a new partner. The reasons given for this were most commonly either because the girl was on the pill (which of course provides no protection against STIs), or because they were drunk. If you are going out (drinking or otherwise) carry a condom with you; it doesn’t mean you have to have sex but it saves you having to make a potentially upsetting trip to the GUM clinic.

Sexual health in the UK is in crisis; in the last 10 years diagnosis rates of syphilis have increased by 1497% and Chlamydia rates have increased 222%. We have the worst overall sexual health in Europe. Unfortunately, the stigma of sexual health combined with poor sex education – it still isn’t compulsory in UK schools – will only intensify the problem. Contracting an STI doesn’t mean you’re promiscuous, it simply means you have had unprotected sex. Naturally, the more sexual partners you have had, the more likely you are to have been exposed to an infection. However, you only need to have had unprotected sex with one person who happens to have the infection in order to catch something. There is no way to tell if someone has an STI just by the way he or she looks or acts. After all, you’re not just having sex with that person but with everyone they’ve ever had sex with . . . and everyone they’ve ever had sex with . . . and so on.

Here’s the promotional aspect of this article: Chlamydia testing will be taking place on Wednesday and Thursday of Week 5 between 12pm and 2pm in the toilets near Vanbrugh Stalls. All you need to do to be tested for the infection is collect a pack, fill your details in on a form and pee in a pot. You will then be contacted to give you the results of your test by phone or in the post; if the test comes back positive, you will then be given free antibiotics to cure the infection.

Why do YUSU organise and promote Chlamydia testing? Firstly, Chlamydia is by far the most common sexually transmitted disease. One in ten students has Chlamydia. It’s really important to get tested even if you don’t have any obvious symptoms: 70% of women with Chlamydia and 50% of men with it experience no symptoms. Like all sexually transmitted diseases, Chlamydia can be transmitted by oral, anal and vaginal sex. Untreated, it can cause infertility along with all sorts of other unpleasant side effects.

All you need to do is to take ten minutes on Wednesday or Thursday to get tested; it’s free, painless and completely confidential. Bring along your housemates, your partner and your friends. A common misconception with Chlamydia is that it is often seen as a problem only affecting women, but this is untrue and it’s just as important for men to get tested. Chlamydia is the most common cause of inflammation in the testicles and sperm-conducting tubes in men under 35, so it’s important to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

If you notice anything unusual about your sexual health, get it checked by your doctor. 90% of all STIs are able to be treated if they are spotted and dealt with early enough. You can get tested for all STIs, including HIV, at the GUM Clinic in town, ring 01904 725417 for an appointment.

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