So today. 14th January, is STIQ day. The Q stands for question and the idea behind the day is to encourage people to think about the sexual health and encourage people to get check-ups and ask questions about who they can better keep themselves safe and healthy whilst having an active sex life.
Sexually transmitted infections continue to be a major health risk for people and whilst the over all number of reported infections in 2018 fell the rates of Gonorrhoea (a 22% rise) and Syphilis (a 20% rise) have risen from the previous year and in March 2018, the first case of multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea was reported in the U.K. So now is as good a time as any to take a moment and think about your sexual health.
When was the last time you got tested?
Have you had sex with multiple partners since then?
Or maybe your partner has had sex with other people?
Maybe you and your partner have never been tested since you got together?
Unless you are absolutely sure you are in a fluid bound relationship with a single partner and have both been tested since starting that relationship or are not sexually active since your last test then you really should get yourself checked out. It can make all the difference when it comes to treatment as for many of these infections the earlier you catch them the easier it is to treat them and it can also give you peace of mind as hopefully you will discover that you are STI free.
Going for a check up can also give you an excellent opportunity to talk to a medical professional about how you can reduce your risks when it comes to STI’s but also a great time to talk about contraception and any other sexual related questions you might have. It might sound a bit daunting but it really is not, there are NHS STI clinics set up all around the UK that you can go to and they are friendly, welcoming and non-judgemental.
Don’t believe me? Then read about Monika’s recent experience of visiting her local Sexual Health Clinic.
For the past few months everywhere I looked on social media or in the news all I could see were big words shouting at me – Get Tested For STI! It just got stuck in my head and
I knew that I had to do something about it. So me being very curious and having a very deep desire to check my body I decided to actually go and get tested. I initially got an appointment by my GP because I thought that was the best and easiest cause way but I was informed that I didn’t need to do that and the best way was to go to the NHS Sexual Health Clinic which I didn’t need an appointment for and they would see me. So I got the leaflet with the date and I was actually excited about finally going to do this.
I live in Leicester so it was easy to find the clinic where I supposed to have my tests done. The lady at the reception desk was really nice and I felt very comfortable the moment I arrived there. I didn’t have to wait too long so that was a bonus. In my head I had so many questions to ask, as I had few other intimate issues I wanted to solve. After few minutes of waiting I got invited into the room by a really nice lady. Firstly she got my details like name and address, do I have any kids and partner, when was the last time I had
intercourse when was my last period and what contraception do I use – none of the questions made me feel uncomfortable and she was really easy to talk to. I felt comfortable telling her that I didn’t currently use any birth control but I would like to change that and choose the right one for me. She explained to me all the options and I was happy to make another appointment to make it happen. What a relief!
Then it was a time to take the samples for the STI tests. It was a simple swab of my vagina. It took just a couple of minutes and was neither painful or uncomfortable. I was worried that the test would not happen because I was on my period but it didn’t matter. The test can still be done. First STI tests completed! While I’m here I might kill two birds with one stone and do a HIV test! I’ve never done before it so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went to other room to see different lady who took a blood sample. I got informed that I have to wait 7 to 10 days for the result which was not a big deal at all.
I left the clinic with a peace of mind and a satisfaction that I have finally got tested. It was something that I always wanted to do but never made time for which was not a good thing at all. I really would recommend that you get tested for STI’s. It really was easy and has given me huge peace of mind. People at the clinic were nice and helpful they also answered some of the other questions I had about my body and contraception. It was absolutely worth doing. My advice would be don’t wait or keep putting it off like I did but make the time to do it and you will be happy that you did.
Sadly due to budget cuts in the NHS for some people their Sexual Health Clinic might be a significant distance away. If that happens to be the case for you then check out FreeTest and you might be eligible to have one sent to your home. Also Freedoms Shop who not only sell bargain packs of Condoms but also do a home HIV testing kit that you can order. m
Despite the fact that we tend to teach young people that sex is about reproduction the main reason humans actually have sex is for pleasure. For most people sex for reproduction purposes will be something they do on a number of limited occasions throughout their life and for some people it will be something they never ever do. Clearly the key to worry free pleasurable sex is reducing the risks such as contracting sexually transmitted infections and/or pregnancy.
Your contraception needs will change throughout your life, someone in their late teens or twenties will probably have different needs to someone in their 30’s or 40’s. The type of relationship(s) that someone is in and where they are in terms of having children will be just two of the big factors that will affect the type of contraception that they might choose.
So let’s talk about some of the different types of contraception
Both caps and diaphragms are inserted into the vagina, along with spermicide, prior to sex. They work by covering the cervix and creating a barrier so that sperm can’t get into the womb. When used correctly they are 92 – 96% effective. The upside of a cap or diaphragm is that they only need to be inserted when you want to have sex and there are no serious health risks or side affects associated with them but clearly one of the major downsides is that they are not conducive to spontaneous sex. They can also take a bit of time to learn how to insert them and they don’t give any protection against contracting STI’s.
Male condoms are worn over the penis and create a barrier preventing the sperm from reaching the womb. When used correctly they are 98% effective and they are the ONLY form of contraception that also protects against STI’s.
Female condoms work in the same way as male condoms in that they create a barrier preventing sperm from reaching the womb but instead of being worn over the penis it is inserted inside the vagina. When used correctly they are 95% effective and can help prevent the transmission of many STI’s including HIV.
There are two types of contraceptive pill, the Combined Pill and the Progestogen only Pill. They work in slightly different ways but both use hormones to disrupt the female reproduction cycle in some way. If taken regularly they are both 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. The pill is a very convenient method of contraception but there are some medical reasons why some women just can’t use it and there are also some side effects to both types that should be considered.
The implant is a small flexible tube that is inserted by a doctor or nurse underneath the skin in the upper arm and releases a small amount of progestogen which inhibits the body from releasing an egg from the ovary(s). Unlike the pill it is not reliant on the person remembering to take it and so once inserted has a 99% effective rate. It lasts for 3 years but like all hormone based methods it plus and minus’ that need to be considered.
In the UK there are different types of contraceptive injection available and depending on which one you have they last somewhere between 8 and 13 weeks. Like many of the other hormone methods they use progestogen and are 99% effective. However they also share many of the side effects of those methods too and you have to go back every 8 – 13 weeks to have another shot.
The patch is a bit like a nicotine patch that sticks to you and releases the hormones directly into your body through your skin. Each patch lasts for a week, you then replace it with another one for 3 weeks in a row and then you take one week off. The patch is very easy to use but does rely on you remembering when to change it. It is 99% effective when used correctly.
The Vaginal ring is a small, soft, plastic ring that you insert into your vagina and leave there for 21 days. You then remove it and throw it in the bin. 7 days later you insert a new ring. It works by releasing small doses of a combined hormone mix and if used correctly is 99% effective.
The intrauterine system is a small plastic device that is inserted into your uterus by a medical professional. It releases a small dose of hormone directly into your womb and is 99% effective. It stays in place for 3 to 5 years depending on which one you have. It is an increasingly popular form of long term contraception for women.
Like the IUS the Intrauterine device is a small plastic and copper device that is inserted into your uterus by a medical professional. Unlike the IUS it does not release hormones but a small dose of copper which changes the make-up of the fluid which inhibits the survival of the sperm and also stops the egg from implanting. There are various different types of IUD available and depending on which one you pick they last between 5 and 10 years.
Natural Family Planning
This is also known as fertility awareness and involves monitoring various factors to determine when your most fertile time of the month is so that you can avoid sexual intercourse during that period. If done correctly it can be 99% effective but due to the imprecise nature of it and the chances for human error the effect rate is probably more like 75%. Clearly, the up side is there are no side effects to this system but the down side is that it is quite labour intensive and can 3 – 6 months to begin to develop a pattern that you rely on.
This involves a surgical procedure that seals or blocks the fallopian tubes therefore preventing eggs from reaching the womb and being fertilised. It is 99% effective and you will never need to worry about contraception again however it does involved having surgery that always comes with a risk and it should also be viewed as permanent and so you need to be absolutely sure that it is the right decision for you.
Male Sterilisation involves a small procedure that is done under a local anaesthetic where the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis is cut, blocked or sealed. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes and is 99% effective. It is a much easier and less invasive procedure than female sterilisation. For someone who has finished having their family or does not ever want one, it is an ideal long term solution.
How do I pick?
Clearly, that is the key question and the answer is that you should really go and get advice from a professional. What you decide to use will very much depend not just on your current need for contraception but also your age, health, family history and where you are in regards to having or not children. All of the options come with advantages and disadvantages which need to be considered and not all the options will suit everyone so getting good professional advice is the key to helping you decide what it best for you.
If you are in the UK then your nearest GP should be able to help you. When you make an appointment tell them what it is for as they often have dedicated clinics or specific doctors that deal with contraception. There is also a comprehensive guide to all these types of contraception on the NHS website.
However, there are also other organisations you can turn to for help and advice such as
and in the USA
Sex with a partner can be a great thing, in fact it should be a pleasurable experience but it is hard to really enjoy it if you are worried about becoming pregnant or catching a sexually transmitted infection. There are lots of different types of options to pick from when it comes to contraception but only one of them is both a contraceptive and a protection against catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and that is condoms. Most STI’s are transmitted from person to person through unprotected sex or genital contact. Therefore only a barrier method of contraception can significantly reduce your risk of contracting something.
What is Safe Sex?
Safe sex is all about taking precautions and making sensible decisions to help reduce the risk to both you and your partner(s) of getting at STI. Most people assume that safe sex means just wearing a condom but actually good safe sex practises extend beyond just condom use.
Condom and dental dams
Clearly the key to safe sex is to take actual physical precautions when having sex with another person. Wearing condoms is a must for both vaginal and anal sex. Both male and female condoms provide protection and so it is up to you which one you want to use. However most people prefer male condoms for anal sex but make sure you use plenty of water based lube. This not only makes anal sex more comfortable but it also reduces the risk of the condom tearing and exposing you to potential infection risk.
However condoms alone are not enough. Many STI’s can be transmitted through oral sex and that is where dental dams come in. They are thin square pieces of latex that can be placed over the genitals, such as the vulva or anus to create a barrier between the person giving oral sex and the one receiving. Likewise when performing oral sex on a person with a penis a condom should be worn.
Getting regular STI tests is a vital part of safe sex. Taking precautions is obviously a key step but getting tested really helps to reduce the spread of infections. Many sexually transmitted infections have little or no symptoms and it is very easy to have contracted an infection and have no idea about it. Regular testing means that you are keeping a check on the situation and if you have contracted something then you can get the right treatment for both you and your(s) to stay healthy.
Low risk sexual activity
Another way to reduce your risk of contracting an STI is to engage in low risk sexual activities only.
Low risk sexual activities include kissing, touching your partner’s genitals with your hands, using sex toys with a partner, dry humping (grinding) without clothes, and oral sex. But it is vital to remember that certain sexually transmitted infections can be contracted from oral sex and so using condoms and dental dams to avoid contact with skin and fluids whenever possible.
There are a few totally risk-free ways to get share sexual pleasure with a partner(s) such as mutual masturbation (when you watch each other masturbating, and dry humping (grinding) with your clothes on. Of course not engaging in any sexual activity at all with another person will also work but for most humans this is just not a happy, healthy option and so learning about good safe sex practises is the best option so that you can have an enjoyable sex life.
Talk to your partner
One of the key areas of safe sex is being able to talk to your partner(s) about the subject. Clearly this is not always easy and really depends on the type or longevity of a relationship. If it is a one night stand then the likelihood is you are not going to have a particularly in-depth talk about it, but that is the time that you should take all the physical precautions that you can and that does not mean you shouldn’t mention it at all. Far from it, stating clearly your safe sex practices and making sure a partner understand what that means for them before you both start taking your clothes off is really important.
If a relationship develops beyond that then there is more opportunity to discuss safe sex. It is a subject that many people find difficult to bring up but being able to have open and honest conversations about it with your partners is a vital step in being able to make sensible plans together for to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
Some tips for talking to your partner.
- Sit down and write a list of the things you want to discuss with them and have it close to hand during the discussion that way you won’t forget anything and you don’t have to memorise it all beforehand.
- Be open and honest. Tell them you want to discuss it because you like spending time with them and want to be able to share your thoughts with them on this subject.
- If you find it really difficult to do maybe try bringing up the subject in an email or text and hopefully that will be a stepping stone to an in person conversation.
- As well as being heard it is important to also listen. Try to create an environment where you both feel comfortable, confident and relaxed about sharing.
Ideally you want to work towards being tested together and sharing your results. If you are in an open relationship where one or both of you has other partners then you should be setting up a schedule to have this done regularly but if you are in a closed relationship then testing might be something you do less often.
What is fluid bound?
When a couple (it is usually couple but there is nothing to stop it being a three people or even more) decide to be in a closed relationship together. In other words they commit to only having sexual relationships with each other and no one else, if they all go and get tested at that point and the results are negative then they can decide to stop using barrier methods and they can be referred to as being fluid bound. As long as no one strays outside that bond and has sexual contact with anyone else then all the people within that bonded group can have risk free unprotected sex.
If you have had unprotected sex, or been exposed to someone who has an STI then you seek medical help. There are lots of Sexual Health Clinics you can attend in the UK or even just go to your GP and discuss it with them.
In the USA depending if you have insurance you might be able to go to your GP but if you don’t have any insurance or not sure if your insurance covers it then your best bet is to go to your nearest Planned Parenthood center.
Getting advice is very important but if you think you might have an STI getting tested and finding out for sure is the key to your future health. If you want to know more about different types of infections, how they can be spread and the possible symptoms associated with them then check out this comprehensive guide. Many STI’s can be treated easily with medication and the earlier you catch them and the easier they are to treat and even those that can’t be cured can be well managed with medication but again, early diagnosis is vital, so be smart, use protection, get tested and encourage all your partners to do the same thing.