Why are STIs are on the rise?
In 2018 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported “an increase in rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis,” and the “increase in gonorrhoea and syphilis notifications are more dramatic than the increase in chlamydia, with rates of gonorrhoea in females twice as high in 2017 as in 2008 and rates of syphilis four times as high in 2017 as in 2008.”
In another report, SmartHealth, shared that STI’s are on the rise in all social demographics and ages, and they even site the increase as an “emerging pandemic.”
Smarthealth attributes the rise to the “silent” nature of STIs which makes them hard to detect.
A 2019 article published by the University of New South Wales called National Debrief found in a survey that 75 per cent of Australians aged 15-29 who engaged in sexual activity in the past 12 months didn’t use a condom at least once.
The survey which looked into sexual-health related information about young Australians also found that “69 per cent” of young people did not use a condom when having sex with consistent partners and that “24 per cent” didn’t use a condom with a casual partner.
Condoms are the best ways to protect yourself from STIs, so these stats are pretty alarming and should be taken very seriously.
Triple j Hack spoke to Dr Philippe Adam from UNSW’S Centre for Social Research in Health, who was the lead author for the study attributed the results to a general apathy towards sexual health testing among young Australians.
"Only a minority of young people - 40 per cent - believe sexual health testing is relevant to them," said Dr Adam.
It is also important to be aware that it is usually heterosexual men who do not get regular STI tests.
The survey also found that 63 per cent of women went for testing, whereas only 51 per cent of men do.
"The main reason why young men are not testing is because social norms are quite low," Dr Adams said.
Why it is important to get an STI test
“STIs are really common and a lot of them can occur without knowing that you have them so they don’t necessarily have symptoms.
“It is kind of like Covid, you can have asymptomatic Covid and you can have asymptomatic STIs - so they can spread quickly,” Dr Ashlea Broomfield tells Girlfriend.
As a practising General Practitioner who has post-graduate qualifications with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Ashlea is one of many doctors who are urging young people to get an STI check - even when you think you are fine.
The test should be viewed with the same importance as any other test you may get at the doctor's, like going for a blood test to check your iron levels.
There is no shame in going, and you will feel so much better when you have all the information in your arsenal.
So, what is the deal with condoms?
The Healthdirect website sights condoms as “the only form of contraception that offers some protection from STIs.”
NOTE: Healthdirect also warns that condoms can’t protect you from herpes, genital warts or syphilis, as they are spread through “skin-to-skin contact.”
This is all the more reason to brave getting regular STI tests!
Dr Ashlea acknowledges that there are many reasons people don’t like using condoms which “Can range from not feeling comfortable talking about it with a sexual partner, not enjoying the feel or preferring to have sexual interactions without using the barrier protection.
“Or being intoxicated and the other thing is trust and trusting that they’re (a sexual partner) not the type of person that would have an STI.”
Dr Ashlea offers a rule of thumb to help you decide to trust a new sexual partner.
She says, “The thing that I would say is you don’t know if you don’t know.
“So you don’t know if someone doesn’t have a STI unless they have had a test that shows that they don’t have an STI.”
Is it ever okay to stop using condoms?
Basically, communication is key here, and the only way for condomless sex to work is for there to be complete transparency between all the people involved in the decision.
“The thing I often tell people it is important with any new partners, it’s important to use condoms and if you decide that that is a relationship where u don’t want to use condoms anymore than it’s important to have a discussion around what are the limits of the sexual relationship.
“Are you going to just have sex with each other? because if you are going to have sex with other people outside that relationship then there is a risk of bringing infections into that relationship.
“And it is important to make sure you talk about and go get a test before you stop using condoms,” said Dr Ashlea.
NOTE: It is important that if you decide to stop using condoms, but do not wish to fall pregnant, you should look at other methods of birth control. We recommend speaking to a doctor about this.
How do you get an STI test?
You can opt for a swab that can detect chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas or herpes (depending on the infection). Or you can have a blood test for syphilis and HIV, as per the Clinical Labs website.
Luckily, in Australia, STI testing is also free and completely confidential.
Clinical Labs points out that “due to the wide spectrum of STIs, there is no one test to detect them all.”
NOTE: For women, HPV testing is performed via PAP smears. The Australian Government website states all females 25 and above, or any female who is sexually active is eligible to receive a smear test.
There is a lot of information to take in when it comes to STIs, but knowledge is the only way to armour yourself and protect your health.