Words: Hannah Kingston
The 21st century brings with it great liberation It’s an era where we have never been more connected with one another. Expressing your sexuality in the way you please has become increasingly acceptable. We’re living in an age in which casual sex has become more acceptable.
With such freedom comes great responsibility. Over the past few years, Ireland has fallen victim to a sexually transmitted disease epidemic. Figures for sexually transmitted infections gathered by the National Disease Surveillance Centre reveal just how prevalent such diseases have become in Ireland today. Over 7,200 people were found to be infected with some form of STI other than HIV in 2014. Figures released by LetsGetChecked found that 9,764 Irish people were diagnosed with an STI (Chlamydia being the most common).
Although we’re living in a time of self-expression and liberation, for some reason we are embarrassed about discussing our sexual health. We shrink away from sharing how we feel about having sex. Ultimately though, we feed the stigma of shame if we become infected with a sexually transmitted disease or infection.
This month, I wanted to find out what the big deal was. Whatever way you look at sex —however much you have had or have not— you need to look after your sexual health, just as you would your physical or mental.
I carried out a survey with 50 UCC students; 25 male and 25 female to present the fact that we all make mistakes. My question was simple: “Have you ever had sex without using a condom?”
5 of my sample had never had sex, another 5 always used a condom, and a whopping 40 students have had sex in the past without using a condom. I’m not exempt. It’s time to wake up and smell the bananas. We’re leaving ourselves open to all kinds of nastiness.
The number of STI notifications has risen from 3,361 in 1995 to 12,753 in 2013 – a rise of 279%. The most recent data from the Healthy Ireland Survey found evidence of risky sexual behavior, with 17% of those having sex with someone outside a steady relationship not using any form of contraception.
I had my survey. I had the research. The next prong to my attack on sex stigma was to talk to managing director Toddy Hogan of the Youth Health Service in Cork.
Q. “What are you guys seeing the most?”
“The most common complaint is anal or genital warts and Chlamydia.” (Grim.)
Q. “Why do you think students are embarrassed when it comes to talking about sex?”
“It’s still an uncomfortable subject, even though there is progress. It’s a societal set back; from our church to our government. It has become more open but we still need a lot more support around it.”
Q. “What advice do you think students should take on board when it comes to sex?”
“Let’s be more open and let’s think of our STI check up as a dental check up. Let’s put it into our health routine. We’re all sexual beings; it’s about taking responsibility for our own sexual history.”
I cannot be a hypocrite and tell you to check yourself without checking myself. This is Motley Tries after all. I made an appointment with the Youth Health Service on Penrose Wharf. Before I had talked with Toddy, I never really thought about how frequently I was having sex, who I was having sex with, or whether or not I used a condom. When I hung up the phone having made the appointment, I suddenly felt nauseous. What if I had Chlamydia? I went onto Dr. Google and looked up the symptoms of every type of STI you can get. I wound myself up to the point where I was convinced I had everything under the sun.
The day came and I went and got checked. It was painless; probably less stressful than a dental check. My results wouldn’t be out for two weeks and the paranoia continued. For ladies, it’s the same kind of hysteria you get when your period is late and you genuinely believe you are pregnant, having had sex that month or not. For boys, it’s probably the same kind of paranoia you feel when “bae” is acting insane and you don’t know what you’ve done wrong.
The results came back. I was as clean as a whistle and as relieved as a nun after Lent. You don’t have to be reckless to get an STI. Like the other 80% of my survey, condoms aren’t always on the top of the list of priorities when you’re heading for the love shack, but it’s time to make them part of the routine.
In the words of “Mean Girl’s” coach Carr; “You will get pregnant and die.” (Or you could look after your sexual health and live happily ever after.)