Marie Claire UK - 10.2019

(Axel Boer) #1



But while Amelia may be fortunate to have access to
effectiveantiviral treatments, it appears drug shortages and
antibiotic resistance to STIs is a growing concern. ‘In the past
year,we’ve seen three cases of a gonorrhoea “superbug” that
isn’t treatable by standard antibiotics,’ says Dr Olwen
Williams, president of the British Association for Sexual
Health and HIV. ‘It’s not a simple matter of taking a tablet any
more; for some, it’s a hospital admission − or worse. Syphilis is
amajor disease and we’re seeing a lot more diagnoses in
youngwomen. If contracted during pregnancy, there’s a high
risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or serious infection for the baby.’
But there are other reasons for the rise in STIs. ‘More
peopleare getting them through oral and anal sex, and
there’s a link between STI rates and social deprivation, age at
sexualintercourse and access to information and services,’
says Dr Williams. ‘Condom use has also significantly
dropped. We know young people are less likely to use a
condomduring their first sexual contact with a new partner.’
Evenif young women are aware that barrier protection
(condoms and Femidoms) helps
prevent STI transmission (in
most cases), what else is stopping
the urgency to use it? ‘There’s an
element of awkwardness if you’re
having casual sex,’ says Amelia.
‘You get carried away and if they
don’t mention protection, I won’t
either. Unless I know I’m not
bothered about seeing him again,
then I’m like: “condom!”’ Laura*,
33, who’s also recently had
chlamydia, agrees that casual sex
and dating apps play a part:
‘They’ve made hook-ups feel like
you’re playing a game and you’re
less likely to take condom-
wearing seriously,’ she says.
‘Thehook-up culture means
we’renot necessarily as thorough
about learning our partner’s
sexual history. And, because sex
can be so accessible, it’s easier
tobe sexually complacent,’ says
DrAnna Hushlak, co-founder of
Ferly,the first ever digital sexual
well-being studio. Mainstream
porn, which doesn’t encourage
condom usage, hasn’t helped
either.‘Last year, one study found
a direct correlation between
regular consumption of porn
and a decreased frequency of
condom usage,’ adds Dr Hushlak.
Surprisingly, there’s still a
significant amount of stigma
surrounding women carrying
condoms,but these attitudes are
being challenged by modern
femtech innovations, including
Hanx, Europe’s first female-
focused condom brand. Its
research found 73 per cent of

womenwere embarrassed about buying condoms, and yet
85 per cent felt they should be buying them. ‘We’re
spreading the message that it’s normal to carry condoms,’
says co-founder Dr Sarah Welsh. ‘It’s not promiscuity; it’s
taking control of your health and body.’
And yet ‘shame’ is preventing many from booking an
all-important STI check-up, which in itself is a significant
factor increasing the spread of infections. ‘Whether people
areembarrassed about being regularly tested or being more
assertiveabout safe sex, the overall stigma and taboo is the
reason why people tend to take a reactionary, as opposed to a
preventative, approach to their sexual health,’ says Dr Hushlak.
Rachael, 26, has battled with embarrassment since
contractinggenital herpes five years ago from an ex. ‘I slept
with someone when I wasn’t having a breakout, but I didn’t
mention my herpes as I was scared he’d ghost me,’ she says.
‘After getting support through The Herpes Viruses
Association, I have since told my current partner. But my best
friend also has genital herpes and her boyfriend doesn’t know.’
Trends in unsafe sexual
behaviour aside, the government
has also cut budgets for sexual
health services repeatedly since

  1. ‘I’ve had women who’ve
    struggled to make it to a sexual
    health clinic because of restrictive
    opening hours or long waiting
    times − and then symptoms have
    worsened,’ says Dr Kathryn
    Basford, from Zava UK. This
    online GP service has seen a 33 per
    cent increase in their STI home-
    testing kits in the past year.
    So, how can we stop STI
    figures soaring? ‘We need to get
    the message across that condoms
    do more than protect against
    pregnancy,’ says Dr Hushlak.
    ‘Sexual health is as important to
    our well-being as exercising.
    Millennials need to understand
    that healthy sex is good sex − and
    that good sex is pleasurable.’
    This year’s theme for Sexual
    Health Awareness Week (16-22
    September) will hone in on
    offering access to services and
    more information, but the
    fundamental message is loud
    and clear: ‘We’ve always said
    prevention is better than
    cure,’ says Dr Williams.
    ‘STIs are a silent epidemic.
    People need to take
    protection seriously, get
    regularly tested and let all
    sexual partners know if they
    test positive. We need more
    open, honest conversations
    around sex in general.
    Ultimately, it’s about showing
    each other mutual respect.’■

Cases of chlamydia, genital warts,
gonorrhoeaand genital herpes
are soaring**. Here, Dr Basford
explainswhat happens if
symptoms are left untreated

‘This may lead to serious health
problems,including pelvic
inflammatorydisease, which can
causeinfertility and increased risk
of complications during pregnancy.’

‘Mostwarts disappear without
treatment,but it can take
a long time. They may also multiply
and,although they rarely have a
significant health impact, there’s
a real risk of passing them on.’

‘This can spread into the womb
andfallopian tubes, leading to
pelvicinflammatory disease and
increasingthe risk of infertility
or miscarriage. For men and
women,the bacteria that causes
gonorrhoeacan spread through the
blood,causing joint pain, swelling
andstiffness. Untreated, it also
increasesthe risk of contracting
sexually transmitted HIV.’

‘There is no cure, but managing
outbreaksis vital to prevent passing
on the virus to sexual partners.’
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