Sexpo, the worlds largest sexual health and lifestyle exhibition, arrived in London Olympia for it’s first UK appearance on Friday the 13th of November. The event had an energetic and (very) friendly atmosphere, offering a wide range of entertainment (not for the faint hearted). There were catwalk shows, uncensored performances, and a ton of stalls that put Christian Gray’s red room to shame. They even had ‘Pricasso’: a man who paints portraits with his penis. They were surprisingly on point (no pun intended).
Words: Caitlyn Hudson & Jade Ratcliffe Subeditor:
On a serious note, now, amongst all the fun the event encouraged around 200 people to get a sexual health check-up: a pretty good number for only one evening. The John Hunter Clinic for sexual health made an appearance in the form of a van, to encourage people to stay safe. The mobile clinic offered a goodie bag and a quick check-up that tested for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and hepatitis b and c. We decided to try the clinic out, and it was over in less than 5 minutes. We had to fill in a short and anonymous questionnaire, but didn’t have to answer any questions we felt uncomfortable with. The nurse needed a blood sample and a genital swab, the second of which you did yourself in a private toilet.
We spoke to Rosemarie, a sexual health nurse at the John Hunter Clinic, to get her opinion on the ‘pulling out method’, one night stands and other sexual health issues.
— John Hunter Clinic (@JH_Clinic) November 15, 2015
You can get tested for free at any sexual health clinic, GP surgery or genitourinary medicine clinic (GUM). The chances are there will be one close to you. Your self esteem will be kept in tact with no nudity required, unless you think that you may have public lice (crabs) or genital warts. For the STDs unlikely to show symptoms (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, Trichomoniasis and HIV), the general procedure is a genital swab, a sample of urine and a blood test. However, a lot of places won’t give you a full check-up unless you ask.
There are now home tests to take for Chlamydia. Just fill out a form online and the urine bottle and instructions will be posted to you. You then send it back in the discreet packaging provided. However, it tests against Chlamydia and ONLY Chlamydia: just because it’s the most common STD, it doesn’t mean it’s the only one you could have.
Nearly half a million people in the UK are diagnosed with an STD per year, but it’s more than likely that the real number is a lot higher due to un-diagnosed cases. Take, for example, chlamydia. It is the most common bacterial infection in the UK, and is very easily passed on during sex. However, most people don’t even get symptoms so carry on unaware and undiagnosed. Genital warts are the most common viral infection in the UK, and are also very easy to pass on (even just skin to skin contact is enough). Symptoms for genital warts can take a very long time to show – it’s typically 3-6 months but can take years, so it can be passed on unknowingly very easily. For more information on STD’s, their symptoms and treatment click here.
Younger adults are at the most risk of getting STD’s as they are more likely to sleep with multiple partners and forget (most likely due to alcohol) to use condoms. The twentysomething generation has been described as ‘the Pullout Generation’ by Ann Friedman, American Journalist. Charlotte, 26, enjoys sex but not using condoms. Or any other form of contraception with her long term boyfriend. What option is left? The pullout method. ’We’ve both been checked for STD’s. The pill doesn’t get on with me, It makes me crazy’. However, she also admitted to using the pull-out method with ‘casual’ partners who’s STD status she did not know about, when she was ‘young and drunk a lot’.
Whilst the ‘pullout method’ is 73-96% effective for birth control, it cannot reduce risk of contracting STD’s. But that being said, condoms do not protect you 100% either, particularly not against some STD’s, so regular sexual health check-ups are a must.
One STD that condoms cannot prevent is pubic lice (also known as crabs). They can pass from person to person even when sexual contact is not involved, but are mostly likely to be passed on during intercourse.
21 year old Joseph Barnett*, from London, contracted pubic lice even though he made sure to use condoms “every time” he had intercourse. Before he found he had pubic lice he thought condoms were fully protecting him against any possible STDs – this is not the case! Symptoms of pubic lice include:
– Irritation and inflammation in the affected area
- Itching in the affected areas
- Black powdery droppings in your underwear.
- Sky blue spots
- Very small dots of blood on your skin.
Or, in Josephs case, you might find them running around various parts of your body… “I found something trying to bury itself into my arm, so I freaked out and went to the doctors. I felt itchy but only after I saw the crab, so it might have been my imagination… I was diagnosed with them that day though”. As Joseph* had had a few sexual partners and didn’t know who had given them to him, he didn’t know if he’d passed it along. Symptoms of crabs can take a few weeks to show, so it is easy to pass them on to someone else unknowingly (and therefore just as easy to contract them!). Once diagnosed, Joseph* got a prescription insecticide shampoo to use, which cleared the lice and eggs up within a week. It’s also important to wash all clothing, bedding, towels etc and make sure everyone you have had close contact with/other household members are treated at the same time. For full information on treating public lice, and other STD’s, click here for an NHS guide. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pubic-lice/Pages/Treatmentpg.aspx
To find out how they feel about STD check-ups and about their reliance on condoms, we decided to ask some young Londoners four questions. For personal Reasons they’re anonymous.
Do you think it’s easy enough to get hold of condoms?
-It’s easy, but they’re expensive.
-I’m at uni so I get given them for free. Not many though.
-I don’t use them but my mates always complain about how much they cost them.
-You can get them from health clinics for free but it’s not exactly easy, and you only get a few.
How often do you get checked for STDS?
-Not very often but I always use condoms.
-Whenever i’ve started a new relationship and want to stop using condoms. I’ll make sure we both get checked.
-Only once before, because I forgot to use a condom.
-I got checked a few years ago when there was a health stall at my freshers fair.
Do you find it embarrassing to get sexual health check ups?
-A bit, but it doesn’t stop me. It’s not embarrassing. More worrying!
-Really embarrassing. I feel like I’m being judged because they ask really personal questions.
-Sort of, but I just think they see so many people that i’m not going to stand out or anything.
-At the doctors yeah, i don’t want it going on my record. I try and go to clinics.
Do you get checked after every new sexual partner?
-No. I always use condoms.
-Only with new relationships.
-I get checked fairly regularly but not every time.
-That depends on if I remember to use a condom or not.
First things first, sexual health check-ups don’t have to be embarrassing. They can be quick, un-intrusive and they give you peace of mind (and free condoms).
There are a lot of young people who think that as long as you use a condom, everything is fine. They are great barriers against STD’s, but sometimes things can slip through the net… And if you aren’t in a long-term (and trustworthy) relationship, and you do have sex, regular check-ups really shouldn’t be missed.