No, I’m not talking about Subaru’s motorsport division, rather an important aspect of our sexual health – Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). These are infections or diseases passed on during sexual contact with an infected partner. We need to raise awareness of STIs with all sexually active blokes regardless of age and while sex ed is taught to us as teenagers, STIs also affect our aging population. Concerningly, some STIs have also been on the rise throughout the Australian population in the last couple of decades, namely chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis. There’s a lot of misinformation that you might hear going around about STIs (no you can’t catch herpes from a toilet seat!), but what are the facts?
Firstly, lets bust some key myths:
- “We don’t need to ‘tarp-up’ if we are using another form of contraception”. While condoms are a good form of contraception, they are also just as important to reduce the risk of an STI.
- “If I don’t have symptoms, I don’t need an STI check-up”. While these little nasties can cause some uncomfortable symptoms, many STIs can be asymptomatic. If we are sexually active and have multiple sexual partners, we need to be getting a check-up regularly.
- “HIV only affects men who have sex with men”. About one quarter of Australian HIV cases are attributed to heterosexual sex. Routine STI tests (which include a check for blood borne viruses) are important for all sexually active men.
- “They only affect promiscuous blokes”. STIs aren’t exclusively contracted by young men with a lot of sexual partners and contracting an STI does not mean you are ‘dirty’.
So, what can we do to practice safer sex and better manage our sexual wellbeing?
- Maintain communication. Like other aspects of our sexual wellbeing (prostate issues and erectile dysfunction), STIs are a topic that aren’t discussed very often. Maintaining a positive relationship with our partner must include open lines of communication. This will involve a conversation around recent STI tests, condom use, and contraception methods.
- Use protection. If used correctly, male condoms are extremely effective at protecting against most STIs. So, it’s incredibly important to use a condom every time you have sex, particularly if you are not in a monogamous relationship.
- Get tested. If left untreated the impact from STIs can be exacerbated. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia can cause blockages in the sperm tubes and affect male fertility. If you do test positive however, it isn’t the end of the world as you know it. There might be a few awkward conversations but most STIs are easily cured or managed with appropriate and timely medical treatment.
This article isn’t intended to scare us into abstinence. Sex should be something that is fun and enjoyable, not feared. Intimacy can be an important way to connect and show love to our partner in healthy adult relationships. We simply need to take responsibility for our sexual wellbeing to protect ourselves and our partner.
Remember, stay smart and stay safe!
By The Regional Men’s Health Initiative