Recently, my friend ‘Peta’ rang me in a panic. She’d hooked up with a guy she met off Tinder and didn’t use a condom. Being on the pill, pregnancy wasn’t her worry. It was the thought that she’d ‘caught something’ from her hook-up.
As a 20-something year old woman having casual sex in Sydney, I’ve noticed that many of my friends aren’t regularly having Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) checks. Young people are recognised as a high-risk group for contracting STIs, including HIV. I’m wondering what’s the hold-up in getting tested?
STIs are on the rise across Australia. Peta may have ‘caught something’ from her hook-up date. Between 2012 to 2016, Gonorrhoea notifications jumped 63% and 75% of new notifications of Chlamydia in 2016 were found in young people aged 15-29 years old. Reality is most of us aren’t using condoms.
What’s more, we’re having way more sex with way more people across a range of different sexualities and genders. We’re no longer straighty-180’s. Young people are pursuing diverse sexual partners as well as multiple or poly relationships. With the growing popularity of hook up apps like Tinder, Bumble and Grinder, casual sex and online dating is the norm.
As sexually liberated millennials, most of us are highly educated with the internet in our pocket to answer all our questions. Yet I know from my own experience that STI testing is not really that high on my health radar. I’m curious why we’re not more involved in our sexual health with routine testing, especially seeing most of us have sex positive lives.
Unless my friend Peta has an STI test, she could have picked up an infection without knowing. Not all STIs have obvious symptoms. While most STIs are curable or manageable with medications (such as, HIV), if left undiagnosed and untreated they can pose significant health risks to ourselves and our sexual partners. Untreated, STIs can affect fertility or lead to other longer-term health complications that are harder to treat.
Condoms are good protection against STIs (you can even get them for free!), though many of us don’t use them which puts us at an increased risk for STI transmission. If you’re having regular condom-less sex, then your best safeguard is routine STI screening, which is free, easy and confidential. Regular testing for STIs is an important part of maintaining your health and the health of your partners.
I’m proud to be part of our sex positive generation with more of us feeling comfortable to embrace and experiment with our sexuality. We also need to feel comfortable taking care of our sexual health. As we move towards normalising sex (and having lots of it!), let’s normalise STI testing and taking care of our sexual health and in turn our partners we care about. There’s no fear, stigma and shame in getting tested regularly.
The main issues for my friend Peta was she didn’t know where to get tested, she was worried about the cost and she didn’t know if she was at risk. On top of all this, she was embarrassed. I offered to go get tested with her and a group of us ended up going together. It’s easier to do something when you have a pal with you.
Testing today is simpler, easier and less embarrassing than ever. It usually involves a pee in a cup and a blood test. If it involves any genital swabs, you can usually do these yourself. Be open with your doctors and nurses about types of sex you are having, whether that be oral, vaginal or anal sex. It means you get the STI test you need.
Let’s start raising awareness of regular STI testing and changing these attitudes of shame, fear, stigma and embarrassment. The best way to do this is to spread the word. When we talk about sex, let’s talk about STI testing. To get tested you can go to any GP (it’ll be free if you go to a bulk billed practice), any sexual health clinic in NSW or these Aboriginal community health services. It’s recommended to get tested every three months if you have multiple partners (e.g. 3-5 a month) otherwise getting tested every six months is a good rule. At the very least its recommended to get tested once every 12 months even if you are in a monogamous relationship.
To all the Millennials out there, let’s raise our sexual pleasure, get it on and get it tested!
If you have any questions you can ask anonymously and get answers from the NSW Sexual Health Infolink (SHIL) line on 1800 451 624. You can check out our Testing for STIs factsheet or chat with a Peer Support Officer on (02) 8357 8386, 1800 245 677 (freecall) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.