Sex isn’t taboo and it’s important to be able to have a healthy discussion about sex so that you can develop healthy relationships and behaviours. Sexual Health And Guidance (SHAG) Week is held annually across the Newcastle City Precinct, Callaghan and Ourimbah campuses and is all about promoting healthy sexual health habits and education around consent and respect. In the spirit of SHAG Week, here are four healthy sex habits to protect yourself and go about treating STIs.
ALWAYS practice safe sex
Did you know that there’s only one contraceptive option which prevents STIs? Do you know what contraceptive that is? Well in case you didn’t, it’s the condom.
Consistent use of condoms can reduce (although not prevent) the risk of STI transmission. STIs can be transmitted after a single sexual act with an infected partner – so make sure you’re using them correctly.
When used properly, male and female condoms and dental dams can help stop the spread of STIs (but NEVER use any of these at the same time). These options are affordable, convenient, and easy to use but most importantly, protect you. You can also get free condoms at the FPA health clinic* (formerly Family Planning NSW).
Even if you are using a condom during intercourse, you still need to be careful as STIs can be contracted through other means. Some infections such as herpes can be transmitted through kissing and skin-to-skin contact during dry sex. Another common way chlamydia, herpes and gonorrhoea are transmitted is during oral sex which is when you can use a dental dam or condom to protect yourself.
Astrid Gearin from Student Care and Equity says, “the best way to look after your sexual health is by having consensual sex.” If you’re having sex with a new partner, “always use condoms to protect yourself and get sexual health checks every 6 months or with a change of partner.”
Have the talk with your partner
Discussing your sexual health with new partners shouldn’t be awkward. Trust us, preventing the risk of an STI will make the conversation worth it. You can’t tell if your partner has an STI by discussing their relationship history so a smart way to go about this is both of you getting tested before you start having sex. Astrid suggests, “talking more about sexual health in general is a great way to normalise and break the taboo. Talking about sex makes conversations sex positive and promotes sexual health.”
You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or shy asking about this, but some people do worry that their partners will assume talking about STIs mean they must have one – or that their partner will reject them.
A good way to go about this is to plan what you’re going to say – difficult conversations can benefit from good planning. You can’t script it word for word but write down the most important points so you don’t forget!
Astrid believes, “We don’t talk about sex as much as we should. Sex should be consensual, healthy and fun.”
So start the conversation because someone has to do it! Start simply by bringing up the topic.
There are many different types of STIs and there can be many signs that mean you may have contracted one but, sometimes, there are no signs at all. The most common types of STIs are:
- Bacterial Vaginosis
- Hepatitis B
When STIs do produce symptoms, they usually develop around your genital area. But your sexual partners may also experience symptoms that you don’t. Generally, the common symptoms can include:
- Pain or unusual discharge
- Pain during urination
- Sores, blisters, ulcers, warts or rashes in the genital area
- Pain in the scrotum or testicles
- Lumps and bumps on your genitals
Just to reinforce the point – even if you’re exhibiting no symptoms this doesn’t mean you don’t have an STI. This is why check-ups are so important!
Go to your doctor if you suspect you may have one
There is often a stigma attached to STIs but most are easy to treat. However, if they are left too long they can lead to serious health implications like infertility – so it’s better to go see your doctor for a check-up sooner rather than later.
Your local GP can test you or you can consider visiting a sexual health clinic like the FPA health clinic*. The choice is yours. The tests are quick and simple and usually require either a urine sample, genital swab or a blood test. Test results are usually available a few days after your test and are confidential.
If you’re ever unsure its best to go see a doctor just to be safe and prevent the spread of any potential STIs.
*The Newcastle FPA health clinic is just up the street from the University’s City Precinct.