Sexual Health: Smash the Stigma

man in brown drawstring pullover hoodie sitting on brown bench beside woman

This week, a national survey revealed that 47% of people in years 10, 11 and 12 have had sex with at least one person in the past 12 months, usually at home and with someone the same age, and while heterosexual partners are talking about avoiding pregnancy, chats about preventing STI’s and BBV’s aren’t happening so much.

This is based on the experiences of 6,200 high school students from right around Australia.

The great news is that both those who are and aren’t sexually active are happy with their experiences and feeling good about their decisions. Also great, the 60% who are sexually active are having good talks with their partners about contraception and using it.

The not so great news is that only a third are talking about STI’s (sexually transmitted infections) and BBV’s (blood borne viruses). In the survey, students only answered about 56% of the questions correctly on the symptoms and transmission of STI’s.

Part of the problem is a lack of awareness.

A lack of know-how when it comes to infections and precautions increases the chances of getting one. And while treatment is often uncomplicated, the social stigma around STI’s can stop us from accessing it, which can lead to serious complications. So, the fear of being associated with something ‘gross’, or being judged for even having sex at all, ultimately gets in the way of prevention and treatment. 

This is the cycle that keeps the stigma going.

Let’s look at Chlamydia, for example. Rates of Chlamydia are on the rise. It’s is an example of a very common STI that’s easily spread and also easily cured (often with antibiotics). It’s only if it’s left untreated that it can lead to some serious problems, even infertility.

But if Chlamydia is easy to treat, why are rates on the rise?

There are a few reasons:


1. If we don’t know, we can’t act 


While Chlamydia is easily cured, the trick is recognising if you have it. Chlamydia is what’s called an ‘asymptomatic’ infection, meaning it presents no symptoms. While some might notice an unusual vaginal discharge or a burning sensation when going to the toilet, many don’t notice anything at all. So, the key is in prevention, understanding how it’s spread and protecting yourself in the first instance. Talk to your partner, always use condoms, use them properly, and talk to your doc about regular screenings.


2. We don’t want to have that awkward conversation


Unfortunately, having an STI or BBV necessitates an awkward conversation or two. You need to tell the person / people who you’ve been sexually active with, so that they can get tested and potentially treated too. Otherwise, you’ll pass it back and forth and on to any other partners you may have in the future, and so the infection continuously spreads. While it might be daunting and a bit uncomfortable to have that chat with your sexual partner, it’s only fair and it’s totally necessary. If need be, there’s also a service you can use called Better to Know, an anonymous text messaging service for telling sexual partners that they should get tested.


3. We’re afraid of being judged


A lack of information (about anything) can mean that there’s a few myths floating around it instead. You might worry that people will think it’s ‘gross’ or way more serious than it is. But don’t forget that STI’s are common, easily spread and easily cured. While they can be unpleasant, the body does a ton of weird and wonderful stuff and its response to an infection is really not out-of-this-world. Essentially, this is between you, your doctor and your partner. If you choose to tell someone who has a negative response just do a Michelle Obama, hold your head up and give the facts. 


4. We’re worried about getting into trouble


Maybe you’re not exactly keen on directly or indirectly letting your parents or guardians know that you’ve had a sexual experience. Totally understandable. But do your best to speak with them about it and, if you’re worried, look at some strategies for managing conflict. If you’re absolutely sure that you can’t confide in your parents, then have a think about another person you could talk to for support, and who could go with you to your doctor appointment. Also, if you’re not comfortable talking to your regular doctor, think about getting in touch with your local sexual health clinic.

If you need further support or if you’re feeling upset or stressed, you can always call Kids Helpline or talk to a counsellor online via Headspace, and if you’re dealing with some family conflict, Reachout have some great tips.

Stigmas may be stubborn, but they smash every time enough people decide to ditch the myths and arm ourselves with the facts. And the more we know about keeping ourselves happy and healthy, the more empowered we are. Sex is all about having fun. It’s about expressing ourselves and exploring our likes and needs. Once you’re ready to experience it, get around all the great info there is out there and keep enjoying your experiences.


Sophie BlissSophie is the Rosie Editor, fresh to the team this month! She lives in Melbourne and is passionate about exploring, good novels, quality time with mates & family and destroying the patriarchy. 


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