Awareness weeks are a great way to get people talking about a particular subject. They're often most effective when the broader discussion hangs around something quite specific, and we were delighted to see that is what happened with last month’s Sexual Health Awareness Week (16-22 September).
The theme was ‘making sexual health inclusive’, with a particular focus on sexual relationships and disability. This marks a welcome reminder that people with disabilities are no less sexual than those without, which means they too need guidance on how to stay healthy in the bedroom.
This is something which sadly isn’t reflected in some of the figures: 4 in 5 of those working in sex education struggle to find resources accessible to those with learning disabilities. Given there are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK, that’s surely not where we need to be. Having a happy sex life starts with good sexual health, which you can only be confident of if you know what to look out for. So, we’re glad to see more being done to communicate that knowledge to people with learning disabilities, and if we can help with that, we feel we should. Our bodies may vary, but at the end of the day, they’re largely the same.
So how might you know if you have a sexually transmitted infection? Pain when urinating, or itching around the genitals, is one red flag – there’s no reason a healthy person should experience these kinds of symptoms, and if you are then there may be a problem that needs to be addressed. You should also avoid sex if you notice, in yourself or your sexual partner, any unusual discharge or bleeding from the penis or vagina. Similarly, any growths, sores or blisters around the genitals or anus are a warning sign that, sadly, you need to get yourself checked by a clinician before the fun can resume.
There’s widespread understanding now that you should never, for example, apply more than one condom at a time. Some people do this because they believe it will be safer, but quite the reverse is the case – doubling up can lead to friction and even breakages. Breakage can occur too where any oil-based lubricants are used with a condom, so you should stick to water-based lube. And not everyone realises that condoms can also go off – you should make sure you’re not using expired condoms, as these too can break and increase sexual risks.
It’s worth remembering too that condoms simply can’t guard against everything – they’re not a catch-all and shouldn’t be treated as such. Certain sexually transmitted infections, like genital herpes, are spread by skin contact, so if you notice sores around your partner’s genitals you should remember condoms won’t work. There are also alternatives which are less well-known: dental dams, for instance, are squares of thin, soft plastic which are designed to cover the genitals or anus during oral sex.
If you need to talk through a sexual health concern, we’re always just at the other end of the line. Some patients find the physical distance virtual consultations involve can alleviate some of the embarrassment they feel when discussing these kinds of issues – which is great if it helps them have these conversations, though we’d hope fewer people are feeling self-conscious about them as time goes on and attitudes change. As last month’s Sexual Health Week proved, it’s important that we have a week to spread some awareness, particularly among those who may not have been included enough in those conversations so far – if you need to go over any of it with us then just drop us a line!