It’s true: the latest data is out, and the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. So, how can you stay healthy while being sexually active?
Wait just a second
– STDS are on the rise?
Since 2011, there’s been an HCT (HIV counselling and testing) campaign in SA, and there’s even a designated STD Awareness Month ( yes, April). So safe sex is the norm now, right? Um… wrong.
“STDS seem like something in adverts for prescription medication – not something that touches my life. My friends and I don’t think about them,” says Beth*, 25, an art director.
These sentiments came up again and again in interviews. But, newsflash: for the first time since 2006, experts have seen a rise in STDS chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea. So, first up, why are things getting worse?
We’re using condoms less
Though condoms aren’t fail-safe, they offer significant protection against STDS like HIV, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhoea and even herpes. Yet we still don’t grab them often enough. In 2013, just 15.2% of women under 45 who used contraception chose condoms – that’s down a smidge from 16.4% of women surveyed in 2010.
We’re relying on other birth control methods more
“There’s also been a big increase in the use of ‘set it and forget it’ contraception, like IUDS,” explains Dr Maura Quinlan, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology. These methods are great at preventing pregnancy, but do nothing to stop STDS. So if you’re in a non-monogamous relationship, you’ll need a condom, too.
We’re not having ‘the talk’
“A lot of patients say, ‘I can’t use condoms with this guy – it’s too complicated with our relationship, so I’ll just get tested,’” says ob-gyn Dr Katharine O’connell White. “I get it – condoms bring up trust issues; the conversation can be awkward – but relying on testing isn’t the optimal way to go.” Chlamydia, for example, can damage your fallopian tubes even before an infection is detected, making it harder to get pregnant, Dr White says. “It’s so much better to prevent an STD in the first place.”
We think that some stds aren’t that serious
Many women have learnt that human papillomavirus (HPV) is super common, and that a woman’s body can often kick the infection without treatment. Kayleigh, 23, an Etsy.com shop owner, says she and her friends categorise the virus as “less serious” than other STDS: “It’s not as big of a deal as herpes, for example,” she says.
Not true, says Dr White: “Medically speaking, it’s hard to classify any STD as ‘no big deal’ verses ‘a very big deal’. HPV could lead to cervical cancer. Herpes is the gift that keeps on giving because it can lead to painful outbreaks and will require tough conversations with partners; it likely won’t kill you, but those things are significant,” Dr White explains.
We aren’t being realistic
The takeaway, doctors agree, is this: don’t be terrified by STDS, but do be realistic about the risks. “We need to get to a place where sex is awesome and condoms are the default,” says Dr White. “When you go into a public pool, you wear a swimming costume – it’s what you do. You floss because you don’t want to lose your teeth – it’s what you do. And condoms? Wearing them should just be what you do, too.”
“we need to get to a place where sex is awesome and condoms are the default.”