According to The Durex Great Aussie Sex Survey conducted last year, 1-in-5 dating singles aren’t sure if they have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and 1-in-10 people with an STI have kept it from their partner in the past. Plus, many Australians are still failing to protect themselves from preventable disease and unintended pregnancy – for example, 64 per cent of men aren’t always using a condom when having sex with a partner for the first time.
So why the taboo when it comes to our health?
As a nation that has sex on average twice per week, it’s surprising that our sexual health is generally accepted as ‘unspeakable’. This article aims to lift the lid on STIs and start the conversation about safe and good sex, because according to that same Durex survey, 75 per cent of people surveyed who had contracted an STI confirmed they’d got it from someone they didn’t expect. In other words, someone they trusted to be ‘clean’.
Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed bacterial STI in Australia, according to sexual health experts, The Kirby Institute in New South Wales. In men, it can present with symptoms that include cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis, painful urination, burning and itching at the opening of the penis, and/or swelling of the testicles. Not a lot of fun for a preventable infection, right?
The Kirby Institute team notes that every year more than 250,000 Australians aged between 15-29 years old acquire Chlamydia – that’s roughly 1-in-20 young people, not accounting for those who don’t test themselves for STIs. Which you should do between each new partner or if you suspect yours of being unfaithful, by the way!
2. Gonorrhea / Syphilis
Syphilis and Gonorrhea are relatively uncommon in Australia overall, though higher rates can be found in men who have sex with other men and young Aboriginal people living in remote parts of Australia. That being said, there’s been an increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses in same-sex Australians over the last five years, especially in women and in urban areas. Gonorrhea symptoms mirror those of chlamydia plus a sore throat, while syphilis can show up first as a small, painless sore on the skin, usually where the bacteria entered your body (i.e. the anus). This is followed by any of the following: fever, swollen glands, weight loss, headaches, muscle aches and more.
HIV arguably has had the most PR of all the STIs thanks to coverage that stemmed from the 70s and 80s, though the prevalence of HIV in males and females in Australia is under 0.5 per cent each. That doesn’t mean it’s one to laugh at though – each year about 1,000 people are newly diagnosed with HIV. The preventative medication, PrEP, reduces the risk of HIV transmission by 86 per cent among HIV-negative men, or closer to 100 per cent in those who routinely take their medication. However, when used alone, PrEP does not protect against other STIs – so always use a barrier method.
What’s the Best Way to Prevent an STI?
Your best way to prevent an STI? Use a condom. Used correctly (i.e. without slippage or breakage and from first penetration through to completion), male condoms are 95 per cent effective at preventing most STIs. Female condoms on the other hand are equally effective at prevention and can even give more pleasure thanks to clitoral stimulation for her and the ‘better fit’ for you. That’s a pretty big reason to have the ‘wrap it before you tap it’ conversation when you’re getting down to business.
We get it, though. Using condoms while having sex can be just the opposite of sexy. The Durex survey found almost a third of those surveyed who don’t tend to bring condoms on a date say it’s because they don’t want to seem ‘too presumptuous’, while 58 per cent of them state that a fear of ‘ruining the moment’ stops them from enjoying sex with a condom.
Don’t want to ruin the mood? Here’s how you can slip on a (male) condom before having sex:
- Have them in easy reach. Keep a fresh condom in your pocket, by the bedside table or in the glove compartment of your car. Check in regularly to ensure they’re kept in the appropriate conditions (dry, cool, unpunctured and unexpired).
- Be assertive. Don’t ask the question, just grab one and put it on. This is actually attractive to your partner – showing initiative is sexy as hell.
- Make putting it on part of foreplay. Learn how to tear one open and slide one on as part of your pre-game routine, or better yet, have your lover use their mouth. If using teeth, be careful not to tear the condom.
BARE Sexology is a sex and relationships education platform. Follow it here @baresexology.
Commissioned by Durex, independent research agency, CoreData, surveyed 1,000 Australians (including 200 school students) between 12 February and 19 February 2018 via an online quantitative survey. The sample was weighted to accurately represent the true population of sexually-active Australians aged 16 and above. For the purposes of this research, ‘sexually active’ is defined as having had sex at least once in the last 12 months. Participation of respondents aged under 18 was conditional on parental permission.
Kirby Institute. HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia: Annual Surveillance Report 2018. Sydney: Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney; 2018.