There is a lot of conversation about health right now, which can be a little overwhelming: most people feel the same. We think it’s important that we keep discussing all areas of health and something which is particularly important to students: sexual health.
University opens the door to a multitude of new experiences. There is no denying that, for most students, moving away from home insights a new found freedom and more mature attitudes toward life and sex. However, not all students will receive the same level of education around sexual health before arriving at university. Parents and schools can differ in their acceptance to normalise the conversation around sex with young adults and it is important that students understand this difference.
After attending an all girl’s catholic high school, my experience of sex education was very minimal and somewhat dismissed by teachers and parents alike - in one class we were told to go around sticking tape to each other’s jumpers until it lost its stickiness. At the end of the lesson we were told that the activity symbolised that the more sexual partners you have, the less ‘sticky’ and attractive you will become. This problematic approach to teenage sexual health was ultimately isolating and only worked to recreate the already strong stigma around the subject.
I was fortunate to have parents who were relatively liberal when opening up the conversation about sexual health at home. However, not all young people are fortunate in this way. Growing up with misinformation about sexual health only fuelled the stigma associated with sex and Sexually Transmitted Infections in particular. Without these conversations with my parents and access to information online, my understanding of these subjects would have remained very minimal.
Health is probably not the first thing that you think about as a student, but it’s important to consider society’s reluctance to shake S.T.I.s of their strongly held taboo. Students are happy to encourage sex positivity until a friend is tested positive and this is where the conversation turns to silence. This a trap that we are all guilty of falling into because it is the way we have been conditioned to speak about S.T.I.s, rather than tackling the problem head on.
Let’s not let shame control our health, in order to fight the increasing rates of students testing positive for S.T.I.s we need to speak about them more and more to normalise the conversation. Stigmas are used in order to maintain control. We perceive sex as perverse and therefore infections transmitted through this activity are demonised. However, the opposite is true - misinformation can cause individuals to believe they are incapable of contracting S.T.I.s. They have abstracted themselves so far from the idea that the infection never gets tested and often spreads itself onto multiple sexual partners. We need to open up a conversation about sexual health so that real change can take place.
However awkward, opening up the conversation around protection and S.T.I.s show that you care about your health, the health of others and embrace a more mature understanding of the conversation that is essential around sex in our lives as students. We must now take the challenge head on by using protection, recognising symptoms, getting regularly tested and speaking outwardly about the importance of sexual health.
Written by Ffion,