Sex and one night stands are a hot topic of conversation for us uni folk, and a majority of people will have sex at university whether it’s their first time or their twentieth time. No one judges you, it’s university after all, making it totally acceptable and sort of mandatory. Following the sexual initiation of fresher’s fortnight, one night stands become an addictive ritual for many students and an accepted and normalised part of drinking culture. People are experimenting, letting loose, sowing their wild oats and embracing sexual liberation without any guilt or cares in the world – a far cry from the student life of previous generations. But what happens when the alcohol induced fog clears and something isn’t quite right, ahem… down there? Suddenly, everyone turns silent. Worlds stop. Panic sets in. No one wants to talk about STIs.
With the growth of mobile dating apps and our increasing amount of sexual partners, our susceptibility to STIs has never been higher. The stigma around STIs is bad at the best of times, yet often seems to affect males and females more than a little differently. Generally speaking, if someone hears of a girl with an STI, she is automatically written off as a slut or a hoe, followed by the false presumption that she must have slept with the whole of Talybont, and is therefore a bit easy. Yet so called ‘lad culture’ assumes young males should be looking to have sex with as many girls as they can, creating an unfortunate double standard that we can’t quite seem to do away with. And yes, in conversational banter between young men, regular sex with a multitude of girls frequently comes up as some sort of evidence of masculinity. However, when we hear of a guy getting an STI it can be just as damaging to their pride, as no doubt the lads are likely to make one hell of a joke out of it.
The lack of knowledge on the subject of STIs is more than a little alarming, and the exaggerated stigma tends to force many of us into the belief that having an STI means absolute life over, and a large proportion of us would rather dance over our own grave than admit to it. But the reality is, you need only to have had unprotected sex with one person to be at risk from an STI; it doesn’t make you a slag or a ‘man whore’, and it really isn’t that much of a big deal providing you do the sensible thing and accept that things are slightly amiss. Burying your head in the sand, promising that you’ll go to ‘the clinic’ next week if you have time is not the way forward. So why do many of us refuse to help ourselves and get tested regularly? Why is visiting the clinic an activity that clouds our nightmares? And why, do we often tend to play the blame game?
A staggering 66 per cent of students that took part in the Gair Ryhdd sex survey admitted they have had unprotected sex. Contraception, particularly condoms, are easily available from club toilets, sexual health clinics and of course, the Students’ Union. Here we can see the problem is not the availability of contraception, but rather our lack of seriousness about the whole thing. Let’s be honest, whilst preoccupied by a tequila induced passionate snog with a complete stranger, whipping out a condom whilst falling out of our own clothes is not often on the top of the list. As sex these days is often enjoyed alongside our alcohol of choice, thoughts of risks and infections are overshadowed by the heat of the moment. We’ve all been there. Coupled with a fear of being judged at a visit to the clinic, our ignorance often leads to finger pointing in the STI department; girls blame guys based on that oh so typical ‘lad’ stereotype, and guys blame girls based on the societal perception that a woman partaking in one night stand shenanigans must make her a bit of a slut.
Yes, we’d all like to think that if we’d contracted an STI it would be our partner’s fault, but there are times when wishful thinking simply isn’t good enough. Men and women both need to get tested as much as each other, so don’t be so quick to point the finger, people!
‘A guy I met up with on Tinder asked me if I had an STI because he thought he had symptoms. I was definitely clean and thought that his automatic assumption was rude. I was really upset!’
We are so flabbergasted at the very mention of the topic and outrageously offended if we are asked about our sexual health. Yet isn’t it a good thing to talk about these things openly? Having an STI is very stressful and while many may delay getting tested out of embarrassment or outright denial, this tends to end rather more hideously. It appears that the severities of STIs are underestimated by some.
‘Looking back on how bad my symptoms were and the other infections I got as a result, I wish I’d have sorted myself out sooner. I just didn’t know where to go.’
Many people believe going to get a sexual health check up makes you look ‘dirty’, and though ‘lad culture’ might paint a very confident image of young males, even guys can find it very invasive to get tested. On the whole, it seems that many of us suffer from ‘the fear of the unknown’ when it comes to STIs. Though as a generation who have received pretty shit or non-existent Sex Ed in most cases, how are we supposed to know what we are up against?
‘I went to an STI clinic and it turns out I just had thrush. I felt awful for taking an STI appointment when all I really needed was a GP.’
Are our sexual health services letting us down or are we just blissfully unaware of what’s available to us? According to Gair Rhyyd’s survey 50% of their participants were unaware of the services that the Students’ Union offers for sexual health. While this is something that needs to be rectified, it is not an excuse to compromise your health. So drag your friend along, make a little day trip out of it – have a gossip in the waiting room and try and remember that everyone sat there cringing and staring at their shoes, is in the same boat as you. Is this really the stuff of nightmares, or are we getting our knickers in a twist (pun intended) about nothing?
Having said that, it is reasonable to rate Cardiff’s Sexual Health Services as inadequate. With long waiting times and difficulty in booking appointments, you can only go to certain clinics on certain days for specific tests. Most GPs won’t deal with STIs directly and encourage people to go to STI clinics, making getting checked a whole lot of hassle and a whole lot of stress.
‘I texted the infirmary for a slot every day for two weeks and was not able to get an appointment!’
And when you are finally able to be seen…
‘I had a male doctor examining me. I felt so uncomfortable, I just wanted to cry. I would much rather have had a female.’
In a student culture that embraces sexual freedom, experimentation and passionate but fleeting drunken encounters, we are likely to have more sexual partners in our lifetime than our parents, and certainly our grandparents. STIs become an issue due only to the ignorance of our generation towards sexual health. It is not as an invasive experience as is made out; the nurse or doctor doesn’t even have to ‘take a look’, you can do most things yourself, and it costs absolutely noting to get tested. It’s about time that we get a grip, get educated, and realise that STIs are a part of life; especially as we embark on life as an irresponsible 20-something. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had 1 sexual partner or 100, you owe it to yourself to get tested. It’s time to stop passing judgement, and start talking about STIs the same way we talk about sex – with a bit of casual Netflix and chill. Logic dictates that if we work to rid the awful stigma surrounding getting tested we will in turn lead healthier and happier sex lives, and who wouldn’t want that?
– Emma Riches and David Williams