Is it easier for you to have sex than to talk about it? That was the response from 31% of people in the FPA’s Sexual Health Week survey. They quizzed over 2000 sexually active people in the UK on a variety of sexual health topics, and the stat that really stood out to us was that one.
It should be easy for people to talk about sex: we’d like to see an environment where discussing your sexual health is as natural as talking about how you take your coffee.
Sexual health is so important – whether you’re in a new relationship or a long term one, there are plenty of things that need to be discussed. Contraception choices and STI testing, for instance, which the survey suggests many people still struggle with.
This week is Sexual Health Week. Running from today – 12th September – to the 18th September, the FPA (Family Planning Association) is focusing on STI testing. They’ll be busting myths, offering resources and advice, and digging into the survey results to give more detail about sexual health in the UK.
Sexually Transmitted Infections: Fear and Stigma
As part of our #SexNotStigma campaign, we come across a lot of common myths about sex and relationships. And sexual health campaigners tackle their own fair share of myths too. When it comes to STIs, some of the most common myths are related to shame and fear of getting tested. In their survey, the FPA found that 68% of the people surveyed had never been tested for STIs. Eight per cent of people said they’d never been for a test because they were embarrassed, or were scared of other people finding out.
But getting tested for STIs shouldn’t be a terrifying thing: the FPA has advice on how to find an STI testing clinic in your area that will test you quickly and simply – for free.
It isn’t surprising that people are still nervous about getting tested for STIs: one of the other common myths around sexual health is related to the ‘slut’ myth. The idea that the only people who get STIs are those who have many sexual partners, or even that it’s only younger people who are at risk of infection. This stigma in turn contributes to making it harder for people to go and get tested.
In fact, sexually transmitted infections can occur even if you’ve only had one partner. They’re also not limited to younger people – STI transmission amongst older people is on the rise. While certain groups are more at risk, it’s important that everyone practices safe sex and knows how and where to get tested if they think they need to.
Condom use and sexual health week
One of the other key themes to come out of the FPA survey was difficulty surrounding condom use. Roughly one in five people said that they had not used condoms because they didn’t enjoy sex as much with them, and one in ten said they had not used condoms because their partner didn’t want to.
When we talk about sexual health, condoms are often the first thing that comes to mind – with many people feeling very strongly about the way they can change sensation. Again, this is yet more reason to open up the conversation and talk more about sexual health: whether it’s negotiating condom use beforehand or discussing options for non-penetrative sex (mutual masturbation, or using sex toys), which has a lower risk of STI transmission.
Sexual Health Week: how you can help
No matter what your status – whether you’re single or in a relationship – your sexual health is always important. Even if you’re not sure whether you need an STI test, you might want to check out our guide on getting a sexual health MOT.
You can also help spread the word by sharing the FPA’s sexual health week page, and starting the conversation in your group around sexual health. The best way to tackle stigma is to talk about it openly: making it easier for people to find information that could help them, and less scary for them to go and get tested.