Sexual Health Monday December 5, 2011

Staying safe over the festive season

It's Christmas party season, the time of year when most of us are rushing around from one party to the next soaking up the festive vibes. However, the jubilant atmosphere can often let people leave their guard down when it comes to sex, leading to some of us having to deal with the consequences of a sexually transmitted infection afterwards.

According to research by Lloyd's pharmacy, as much as 15% of people who don't use protection during sex do so because they are too intoxicated to remember to do so, while 38% of people they interviewed used the excuse that they simply got caught up in the moment. So it's not surprising that there is usually an increase in teenage pregnancies during December and January.

Mary Stopes International reported last year that in 2009 Health Chiefs said that the number of people going for STI tests drop significantly during December, which they believe can be attributed to the fact that there is a more care free approach to sex and sexually transmitted diseases during this time. Although, according to a spokesperson from Scunthorpe General Hospital, this number tends to pick up drastically during January.

Responsible fun

Many people may not even go for an STI test at all after having unprotected sex, because they don't think that it's possible for them to have picked up an STI, as many of the most common ones don't cause any symptoms. Shockingly, quite a large percentage of sexually active people (more than 50%) in the UK admitted that they have never gone for an STI test. So even if a partner claims they don't have an STI, there is no way of completely knowing whether they are without an infection. It's therefore very important to have fun but keep your wits about you, to avoid sexual encounters you're likely to regret in the morning.

Health officials are warning people to be careful and to know their limits when it comes to alcohol, as this can avoid situations where you are particularly vulnerable to take part in activities that aren't safe. The Locally Healthy published the following guidelines from the Department of Health, to help both women and men predict when they are likely to reach their limit:

2 units - this is equal to an average pint of lager, beer or cider Feeling relaxed, but also at an increased risk of accidents
3-4 units - this is equal to a large glass of wine with around a 13% alcohol content Can make you feel cheerful, but at this point alcohol can impair your judgement and decision making abilities
6 units - equal to two pints of Stella Feeling of warmth and loss of inhibitions
8 units Talkative and slurred speech;
10 units Acting silly, confused, potentially aggressive
12 units Drunk, groggy and memory loss
Over 12 units Not safe, vulnerable, close to vomiting and incapable of looking after yourself properly

Along with these guidelines, the NHS also advises that you drink non-alcoholic beverages between alcoholic ones. This can help reduce the amount of units you take in over the course of an evening. They also warn that people shouldn't leave their drinks unattended and to try and stay with people they trust during the entire evening.

Go prepared

Keeping a pack of condoms handy just in case is also a good idea, as Lisa Power from the Terrance Higgins Trust so aptly told the Metro: 'You never know when you're going to get lucky or, in more cases than ever these days, unlucky.'

It is however important to take into consideration that, not even condoms can provide 100% cover and some STIs can spread simply through skin to skin contact, such as genital herpes or warts. Any kind of sex, even oral is a high risk activity, when it comes to the spread of STIs.

If you do end up having unprotected sex during the festive season and you are worried that you may have contracted an STI, go for a test as soon as possible to ensure that you get the right treatment should you need it.

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