The dates, gifts, kisses and just overall companionship are beautiful components of relationships, but, when sex is involved, don't forget the risks!
Sexually transmitted diseases and infections are real. They are not rare mystical oddities or stories conjured up to make you fear intercourse. They are real, life-altering and in some cases, life-threatening conditions that you are eligible to catch if you interact with the bodily fluids of others. That's it - the only qualifying factor for an STI is interaction with the sexual fluids of another person, you don't need to be particularly "dirty" or promiscuous. They effect over half of the world's population (more than 50% of people contract HPV and 2/3 people have herpes). While some are relatively harmless and/or curable when detected early, many people do not get tested, despite frequently participating in unprotected sex.
Black and mixed Brits have a higher rate of contraction of most common STIs including gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, syphilis, trichomoniasis, genital herpes and genital warts - this rate is even further increased if you are 25 or younger and/or a man who has sex with men.
Being from a high risk group, using protection is essential. Getting regular heath checks is also key. Not all STIs present symptoms so checking your status is not about how you feel, it is about understanding that sexual health screening is a form of self-preservation and care.
On twitter, we hosted a discussion and created polls about the prevalence of STIs in black/mixed communities and the causes.
The results from these polls show that show that stigma/shame surrounding STIs is a large deterrent of conversation and checks, which is not surprising as generally, STIs are seen as a direct result of promiscuity and irresponsibility, which makes it interesting to observe that those in monogamous relationships are likely to get tested less often due to the belief that being faithful means that health is guaranteed. Monogamy is known to reduce the risk of transmission for obvious reasons, however, a study shows that this group of people have the same risk of transmission as those in open relationships, due to infidelity (without protection) and fewer check-ups. So even in a monogamous relationship or marriage, self-preservation is very important. You could go for checks with your partner, having open discussions about your concerns is mature and shows pro-activity - if you fear that you partner may misread your concern as distrust, you can get tested independently. Either way, do not be negligent when your health is involved.
It is common and understandable to see a medical professional after displaying symptoms of an illness, however many diseases (sexual and general) develop greatly without displaying symptoms, sometimes symptoms are the beginning of serious implications - infertility can be the first symptom of chlamydia and gonorrhea, they can also increase the likelihood of certain cancers; with HIV, sometimes, symptoms only become worrying after the development of AIDS; and cases of brain damage have been a result of, and only apparent symptom of syphilis. Getting tested regularly means that at early stages, action is taken, it also prevents further transmission.
These poll results show that most voters are inconsistent or negligent with their use of protection, which obviously promotes STD transfer, this could be for a number of reasons - some may be in monogamous partnerships, some may feel ashamed to ask, some may prefer "bareback" and others may just get lost in the moment without planning ahead, regardless of the reason, unprotected sex strongly increases one's vulnerability to STDs. It was surprising to see that most voters primarily worry about pregnancy when engaging in unprotected sex as opposed to the transfer of an STD - this highlights the lack of awareness and sense that STD transfer is a viable threat. And of course, failure to acknowledge the possibility of contraction means that there's a lower chance of going to get checked. It is important that even after the use of contraceptives, care against infection must be taken.
These last two poll results indicate that majority of our voters get tested responsibly and frequently - which is great news! Getting tested is great and in many cases, free (in the United Kingdom)! There is no need to unnecessarily endanger yourself. Even with protection, STI transfer is not impossible (although MUCH less likely), to stay safe, make sure that you are clued up on your STI status.
When engaging in any sexual activity, having open conversations with your sexual partner about sexual health and any concerns is a great way to further trust and to take your health seriously. No matter what anyone's opinion is, prioritise your health!
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For more statistics on sexual health visit here.
To find out where your local sexual health information and support services are (in the UK), visit here
You can speak to us about your concerns here