By Jess Bolton SH:24’s graduate business associate.
There’s been an huge amount of chatter recently about whether or not dating apps are leading to an increase in STIs. Back in November we put the question to our twitter followers and 53% of them said no – not exactly conclusive…
As the number of casual sexual encounters goes up the rate of transmission inevitably goes up with it but there is nothing about these apps themselves that promotes unsafe sex. We should all be able to have as much sex as we want however we want and with whoever we want, but we should try to do it responsibly.
The way we see it though, sexual health doesn’t begin and end in the bedroom or clinic. Changing your sexual habits to reduce the risk of infection is a great start to reducing the spread of STIs, but the attitudes that facilitate the spread of infection go a lot deeper.
There are all sorts of things that prevent people from accessing sexual health services. People having the time to go to a clinic for a start – few are open at weekends and people often have to take time off work, not knowing how long they will need to wait to be seen. The introduction of online services and flexible clinical services can help to alleviate this problem. The most pervasive barrier to access, and the one that needs more than just an innovative new service to defeat it, is stigma.
We know that stigma around STIs prevents people from testing because it’s our job to understand how people manage (or in some cases, don’t manage) their sexual health. Early feedback from our users indicated that people were embarrassed about going to test in clinics (yep, really). They mentioned things that lots of us have probably felt – “I’d hate to bump into someone I know at the clinic”, “I just want a more discreet test”.. Stigma around sex, sexuality and sexual health runs deep in our society, and on top of the stigma around testing is the stigma of receiving a positive diagnosis.
The impact of this is huge. Take the gay male population as an example: an estimated 43,500 men who have sex with men live with HIV. This is about 6% UK-wide, but twice as high in London. Of these men, around 16% do not know that they are living with the virus. Not only are these people not getting treatment, they may also not be taking the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus. If stigma is preventing people from testing, it is time that we did something about it.
Today is STI Awareness Day. There’s loads of information out there about sexual health, and making informed decisions about your sex life and your body is empowering. Don’t stop there though – let’s make this STI Awareness Day all about breaking the stigma. Talk to your partners, talk to your friends, normalise conversations about sexual health. The more we talk about it, the more people will test and the more we can claim to be having fun, sexy and above all safe sex.
Here are our five challenges to you on STI Awareness Day
- Have a chat with a mate. Talk about condoms – big ones, small ones, flavoured ones, glow in the dark ones. Talk about contraception and emergency contraception. Talk about testing – how often you test and how, and about that time you needed chlamydia treatment or your most recent run-in with thrush.
- Go and test with a your friend or your partner. Make it a group event! Order your test, order a pizza and have yourselves a test fest! Or head to a clinic, some of them have free coffee (shout out to our friends at Burrell Street clinic)
- Tweet a selfie next time you’re testing to @sh24_nhs – see mine above for inspiration.
- Don’t say “clean” to describe someone who doesn’t have an STI. How would you like it if someone implied you were dirty? Wash your mouth out with soap (only not actually).
- Carry condoms! It doesn’t matter what your gender is – if there’s a penis involved it’s the coolest thing you can do for your body and those of your partners. Condoms come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but we love love LOVE Lovability lovelies. If you love them as much as we do and you’re looking for a bit of extra cash, you can even become a stigma-smashing merchandiser.
To order a free STI test kit or for more information on sexual health or to order a free STI test kit visit www.sh24.org.uk