What the hell is Sexting? Is it dirty talk in texts, is it like phone sex but via text, is it sending nudey photos? I really don’t know but what I do know is that young people today are far more foot loose and fancy free when it comes to all things sex related than they were ten years ago. Along with a huge increase in STI rates over the last ten years, there has also been a corresponding, and perhaps related, cultural shift in attitudes towards sex.
Ten years ago I was at university, where I was still perfecting my french kiss and thinking carefully about taking my relationship at that time, to the next level. I’m not talking about a saccharin sweet ‘losing my flower’ sort of moment but my concerns were definitely of the nieve variety when considering the sexual concerns of the younger generation, between the ages of 15 and 24 today. I’ve spoken to many younger men and women about their sexual behaviours and discussed with them their knowledge of current STI rates and statistics. The clear impression I get is that young women and men of today have long since perfected their kissing techniques since their focus now is on whether or not they’ll have anal sex on a first date. It must be easy access to pornography on the internet, the availability of sexual images, the increased pressure to look and feel sexually attractive, that has contributed to this shift in sexual practice. The sort of topics that were once taboo or at least personal are now open and very much, part of the conversation. Ten years ago I had just started emailing! The age of innocence didn’t know enough to feel exploited or pressured, clued in, or even ready, certainly not in the way young people seem to feel now. Even talking about sex is less of a taboo, which is a great thing, but with that comes an attitude, a fearlessness, and ultimately, a lacsy daisy approach to the use of protection, sexual encounters and treatment.
The use of smart phones and the power of social media seem to play a huge role in the sexual connections young people are making today too. I suppose that young people find they can be as explicit or seen to as edgy as that like but, at a safe distance. This has got to mean that when they get a little older, they slip into risky behaviours more easily, earlier on in their lives? As presumptuous as this might sound, the figures are in and are as alarming as ever.
According to the latest Health Protection Agency (HPA) report, there has been no changes to the average number of lifetime partners of those in the 15 to 24 year old bracket between 2010 and 2012 compared to those figures between 1999 and 2001, however, this age bracket still experience the highest rates of STIs.
In 2013, among the young heterosexuals diagnosed in GUM clinics, 63% were diagnosed with chlamydia. 56% were worryingly diagnosed with gonorrhoea, an infection that is running out of treatment options thanks to antibiotic resistance. 54% of young people were diagnosed with genital warts, and 42% with genital herpes, a virus that will stay with them forever. Factors such as risky behaviour, incorrect use of condoms, unprotected sex and the number of sexual partners young people are experiencing are major contributors but the sexualised world we live in does seem to be contributing. There is an awareness about sex among young people like never before but rather than this inspiring care and understanding regarding STIs and treatment, it seems to encourage a flippancy which makes it ok to get tested, get treated and keep going, the pattern repeating again and again. We need to go back to education at schools and really look at what is being taught. Safe sex is one thing, but what about partner notification, re-testing, correct use of contraception, annual testing, self-respect.
One of the most cited reasons for not getting tested is the stigma associated with going to a GUM clinic. There are websites where you can get tested without actually visiting a clinic and some of these are publicly funded so you do not even have to go private for the privilege of discretion. The publicly funded sites appear to be quite limited in the range of services but they are free and they do allow partner notification. There is one private clinic in London’s exclusive Harley Street that runs an affordable web-based service through The STI Clinic. This service is fast and they are able to prescribe free treatment, which is a bonus for those of us who are not flush with cash. The service is very fast and discreet. Anonymous partner notification is available, should you require this service.
Other influences on sexual health have been around forever in the form of drink and drugs, but how has the availability of these substances changed in the last ten years? There has to be a direct relationship between changing attitudes towards sex, sexual practices, and the high STI rates of today. We need to cater education at school level to what is going on now, listening before teaching. We need to know what sexting is, what the ‘norm’ is today, before we can teach good practice and self respect. Ten years ago, I never thought I’d sound like a batty school marm, but I’m sure to the 18 year olds of today, I do. Times have changed and we have to change with them.