Let’s talk about sex and how to take shelter from STIs


sexual health stis
Photo: Adobe Stock

“You can stand under my umbrella.” In Umbrella, Rihanna sings about love as in ‘lurve’ — mad romantic passion.

But let’s talk about love as in mad sexual passion — making love. It’s time we talk about sex and taking shelter from STIs.

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Like most great passions in life, sex comes with risks. Those risks can be managed, but STI rates have increased in Queensland, particularly in men who have sex with men.

The Brisbane Times reported in October 2018 that the state had seen a 230% increase in syphilis cases compared to 5 years before, a 70% increase in gonorrhoea, and a 15% in chlamydia.

STIs are avoidable, and as Granny always said (she was right on this), prevention is better than cure. Some STIs cause minor inconvenience, others require expert intervention and others can do permanent damage. The number one precaution against them is the use of condoms and dams.

Protection

Protection works. Condoms and dams provide protection against most STIs and HIV. They’re the only way to go.

Using condoms for anal and oral sex, dental dams for analingus and gloves for anal fingering dramatically decrease your chance of contracting a STI.

Shared sex toys can also transmit infections so whack a fresh condom on a toy every time a different person uses it.

Unfortunately, condom usage among gay men has decreased in recent years. The Gay Community Periodic Survey: Queensland 2017 indicates a majority of gay men no longer use condoms for anal sex.

Dr Wendell Rosevear from the Stonewall Medical Centre attributes the rise in STIs to that decreased condom usage and increased casual sex.

“I think we should have a fashion show for condoms to make them fashionable again,” Wendell said.

By using condoms and dams, we can have our cake and eat it too. We can enjoy a great sex life, without medical consequences by simply being careful and taking advantage of cheap and readily available protection — condoms and dams.

Check

Some, though not all, STIs manifest physically, so play doctor with your sexual partner/s. Sex workers protect their sexual health by checking clients for visible signs of disease. Do the same.

Blisters or sores on the mouth or genitals are a massive red light. Avoid sex until your partner has a sexual health check-up. Likewise, rashes. If you discover a rash, on any part of the body, do not touch or rub it.

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Genital warts can be present on the penis or hidden from view inside the anus.

Crabs or pubic lice are pesky itchy little critters usually found among pubic hair.

Penile discharge can vary a lot. It can be different colours. It can be odourless or have a foul smell, but regardless, it can also be a symptom of gonorrhoea or chlamydia. Squeeze the shaft of the penis in a downward milking motion to check for discharge.

Don’t rush to judgement if you find signs of an STI. Your partner will already be upset to discover they may have an infection.

Making them feel bad won’t help. What will help is a sexual health check-up.

Talk

Talk to your sexual partner/s. Ask if they’ve had a sexual health check and how long ago — if they’ve had a STI and if it’s been treated. Discuss their attitude to safe sex and mention your boundaries. It’s a lot easier to deal with potential consequences before than later.

Later is often too late.

Check-ups

To be sure you aren’t carrying an STI and to access timely treatment if you are, have regular sexual health check-ups.

Dr Rosevear sees testing as crucial.

“Most people probably only test once every three months, but it doesn’t mean that three-month test will cover what happened last night,” he said.

For sexually active people, regular check-ups should be a normal part of everyday life. Testing is simple and most STIs are easily treated, so the quicker you get tested, the sooner you’re better. If you do have unprotected sex, don’t wait for the scheduled check-up. Make an earlier appointment. If you have contracted a STI, it will be worth it.

You can’t judge a book by its cover

Back to Granny. She often said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Anyone can have an STI — anyone who has sex that is. That is the one thing people who contract STIs have in common — that they participate in sexual activity — not their age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, political leaning or favourite queen on Drag Race.

Treat all sexual partners equally and don’t let either social assumptions… or lust, influence your judgement. An STI can arrive wearing a pair of boardies or a 3-piece designer suit.

Other prevention methods

These days, there are vaccinations or medications available which can provide lasting protection against some infections.

Taking  Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication daily decreases the risk of contracting HIV but provides no protection against STIs.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) may prevent HIV infection if taken immediately after potential exposure to the virus  (preferably within a couple of hours, but definitely within 72 hours). You can find out more about PEP here.

Protection is available in the form of vaccinations against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Further, the HPV (Human papillomavirus) vaccination protects against more than 90 percent of HPV strains, including the HPV types which cause most related cancers in men and the majority of genital warts.

Ask about vaccines at a Queensland sexual health clinic or visit your GP. Have a sexual health check while you’re there.

Life is an amazing adventure, and more amazing with a few precautions. If it’s going to rain, carry an umbrella. If you’re going to jump out of a plane, wear a parachute, and if you’re going to have sex, use protection.

To find out more information: http://qld.gov.au/stoptherise

Thanks to our campaign partner: Queensland Health