Millennials clueless on STIs

brightly coloured condoms in packets

An alarming 60% of young Queenslanders believe the contraceptive pill is a form of protection from STIs

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young says a number of false beliefs and misunderstandings around sexual health are contributing to the growing number of STI cases in the state.

“In 2017, we saw more than 23,000 notifications of chlamydia and almost 5,000 notifications of gonorrhoea, which is the highest we’ve seen in Queensland in the last five years,” Dr Young says.

“Queensland Health recently conducted market research which surveyed young people aged 15 to 29 on their attitudes and behaviours towards sexual health to gain a better understanding of why these numbers continue to rise.

“The research revealed some incredibly concerning findings, including false beliefs from the majority of those surveyed, that the contraceptive pill and the ‘withdrawal method’ are effective forms of protection against STIs.”

Not only did 60% of those surveyed believe the OCP could protect against STIs, 52% believed the withdrawal method was also a form of protection.

Attitudes about condoms were also found to be generally positive, but their use is still primarily motivated by a desire to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

“STI prevention is a secondary driver at best, and for only half of all condom users,” Dr Young says.

“Despite these misconceptions, only 14% of those surveyed considered themselves to be at risk of an STI.”

She says she hopes yesterday’s National Condom Day – held on Valentine’s Day, February 14 – would help prompt young Queenslanders to have sexual health checks.

“Sexual health is an important part of our general health, yet it is something that is often neglected,” she says.

“In Queensland, the statistics show that more than 50% of young people aged 16 to 29 have never been tested for an STI, because they are too embarrassed to talk to a health professional or because they don’t believe they are at risk.”

Meanwhile another small study, conducted by researchers at CQUniversity Bundaberg, found that older women, concerned about the spread of STIs, may be more likely to demand their partner wear a condom.

Lead author Dr Cathy O’Mullan says it’s important to focus on women over 45 years as they are the fastest-growing group of online dating users and their rates of STIs are steadily increasing.

“It can be really difficult for women in this cohort to start raising the issue of safer sex and condom use,” she says. “Many women in middle age have been in long-term relationships, so they haven’t had recent experience in negotiating safer sex.”

She notes that insufficient attention has been paid to the sexual health of women over 45 years at a research, program and policy level.

“Our findings reveal a complex interplay of individual, interpersonal and structural factors that have enabled the women to practice safer sex,” Dr O’Mullan says.

“It boils down to women being informed, being prepared and being empowered.

“Women felt able to negotiate safe sex if they felt they had control over the situation, felt able to articulate their needs and wants, and were able to take action if their needs and wants were not being met.

“Our findings emphasise the importance of developing skill sets aimed at building self-confidence around initiating safer sex conversations and enhancing negotiation skills. In addition to providing women with the tools to successfully negotiate safer sex, it is imperative to also challenge inaccurate assumptions or stereotypes regarding women, sexuality, and ageing.”

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