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Destigmatising the STI: taking care of your sexual health

ByVarshini Vijayakumar

Oct 11, 2017

According to the Family Planning Agency, young people are the most likely group to be diagnosed with an STI in Scotland.

The C:Card scheme is a service in the Lothian which aims to promote safe sex by providing free condoms, dental dams and lube to anyone over the age of 13. The service is anonymous and has several registration points, including The Advice Place at Potterrow. Great! So what might prevent people from accessing the C:Card and other sexual health services on campus?

The biggest problem appears to be the stigma associated with having an STI. The central theme of my sex education at school was the link between sex and fear – don’t have sex because young love doesn’t last. Don’t have sex because you could get a horrible STI. I’m sure you all remember being shown a Powerpoint with slide after slide of warty, weeping genitals as a grim warning during sex education. The implicit message? STIs are disgusting and should be feared.

Stigma is not just perpetuated in schools: it’s also rife in popular media, with the Daily Mirror gleefully reporting on ‘the most STI-riddled degree subjects’ at UK universities and describing those with lower reported rates of STIs as the ‘cleanest’. Note the language around sexual health – to have an STI is to be dirty, to not have one is to be clean.

Stigma around sexual health intensifies for members of marginalised groups: particularly for gay and bisexual men due to the HIV epidemic of the 1980s.

Hattie Cooper Hockey, Branch Co-coordinator of Sexpression Edinburgh says the “culture of embarrassment around sexual health” can make people feel “sheepish and apologetic” about seeking resources or advice. As some STIs do not present with symptoms, it’s important to get tested regularly and use barrier methods to minimise the risk of transmission.

Most STIs can be resolved with antibiotics and there are treatment options available for more serious infections such as HIV. STIs shouldn’t be feared.

There’s plenty of options for taking care of your sexual health around campus. As well as being a C:Card point, The Advice Place offers plenty of free sexual health-related services.

The fantastic Chalmers Sexual Health Centre is less than ten minutes’ walk from campus and offers general walk-ins between 8.30 and 10.30am. At this time, they also offer ‘No Talk Testing’ to anyone who doesn’t fall into certain risk categories (you can find these on the Chalmers website), meaning you can get tested for common STIs without discussing your sexual activity at all. Chalmers is a  LGBT-friendly clinic and provides services specifically for men who have sex with men called m-test.

You can also receive a full STI checkup at your GP. Going for an STI check-up or picking up dental dams and lube from Potterrow might seem embarrassing at first, but it’s also very empowering.

We spoke to some Sexpression volunteers and asked them some questions about taking care of your sexual health.

Where can I get emergency contraception? 

Emergency contraception, or Levonelle, is often misleadingly called the ‘morning-after pill’. It is actually effective up to 72 hours after unprotected sex and there’s another prescription called Ellaone which is effective up to 120 hours after sex. You can get it for free on the NHS from a pharmacy, Chalmers or GP. If you’ve had unprotected sex, it’s also recommended to get checked for STIs.

I think I might be pregnant…

You can find free pregnancy tests at The Advice Place, your GP and Chalmers. The Advice Place offer these anonymously with no questions asked.

Where can I find free safer sex resources?

Almost everywhere on campus! The Advice Place is particularly good as you can also sign up for a C:Card to receive free condoms, dental dams and lube on demand. You can also get free condoms at your GP or even at Big Cheese from the Sexpression Edinburgh consent stall! Sexpression Edinburgh also routinely give out free condoms at their events.

I’m worried about HIV… 

Chalmers offers HIV testing as part of its No Talk Testing Service, if you think you may be at specific risk of HIV due to your sexual orientation.  If you’d rather, you can also order a home HIV testing kit online from the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Other useful sexual health resources for students and young people:

What happens at the clinic @ Sexual Health Scotland: a description of how the STI testing process goes down in clinics and at the GP. http://www.sexualhealthscotland.co.uk/the-clinic/what-happens-at-the-clinic

Terrence Higgins Trust: order your free HIV test here! You just need to provide an address.

Brook: A charity providing wellbeing and sexual health support to young people in the UK. https://www.brook.org.uk/

You can find a list of local and accessible sexual health services on the Advice Place website under Health and Wellbeing at eusa.org.uk.


image: Kayseog via Flickr

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