Consent, Communication and Condoms: The Three Cs of Sexual Health

Lets talk about sex...

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We all have sex. If it’s not happening now, it probably will at some stage. Unless you’re Sister Wendy Beckett; art historian, nun and consecrated virgin. Similarly, we have all (for the most part) been subjected to The Talk. The Talk covers the basics: condoms, herpes and babies. This doesn’t seem like enough information about sex with which to throw your kids into the sex-filled world. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way a medical professional – but I feel like there’s a lot more to the issue of sexual health than these three things.

Before diving into the deep end, here are some contraceptive basics. Both male and female condoms are available, but both shouldn’t be used at the same time because they’ll rub against each other and might break, which would be just horrible. There are two different types of birth control pill: the combined pill and the mini-pill, both ranging between about €10 and €20 a month, depending on the brand (all of the same quality, regardless of price). The pill is over 99% effective when used correctly but doesn’t protect you from STIs, so invest in some condoms too (they’re cheap and handed out for free in many sexual health clinics, as well as our own Students’ Union offices). If your condom breaks or you miss a pill, you can always opt for the emergency contraceptive pill which is available at most pharmacies. Emergency contraceptives are also available from the IFPA (Irish Family Planning Association) and the Well Woman Clinic prices range between €30 and €70. These organisations are pro-choice and also provides counselling services, including non-judgemental information on abortion and how it can be accessed. There are literally dozens of contraceptives available for women (unfortunately, less for men) but I have a word limit so I’lve provided links about these at the end. In summary, all of them provide different degrees of protection against pregnancy but only some protect against STIs.

Just like there are dozens of contraceptives, there are just as many (probably more) STIs that you can get. Statistically, you might get one, but some contraceptives will help you avoid that. If you think you have caught one, pick up the phone and call a doctor. For €20 you can get an STI screening at a DIT Health Centre which will tell you what (if anything) you have. Getting regular STI checks is always a good idea. Every time a new partner enters the scene (or just every few months to be safe), take a trip to our beloved Health Cthere arentre. This is because some STIs, such as chlamydia, often come with no symptoms. The test for chlamydia usually consists of a vaginal swab for women and a urine sample for men. STI testing is quick, easy and pretty cheap considering the benefits.

At the moment, however, there is an unlawful amount of stigma about STIs. The truth is that people get them and they can be treated. Take HIV, which is probably the scariest one. But this isn’t New York in the 80s – HIV can be managed and, with the right medication, people with it can live long and healthy lives. Contrary to what some people might say, having an STI doesn’t make you gross, unhygienic or a slut. But still. Just use condoms. They could potentially save you a lot of stress (and money) in the future.

So I guess this brings us to the actual act of sex which, shockingly, is different for everyone. Secondary schools (and your parents) usually stick to the idea that sex consists of penetrative intercourse. This isn’t always the case. A big problem with this type of sex education is that it really limits and represses members of the LGBT+ community. It’s easy to feel like your sexual experiences don’t matter or aren’t as important because you haven’t had penetrative sex, as that’s what everyone usually refers to when they talk about sex. It can even be confusing to pinpoint when you lost your virginity.

Fear not, kids, as virginity is a subjective concept, as is sex itself. You decide what sex is for yourself. Penises don’t have to be involved. Sometimes it’s only penises involved. As long all participating parties are consenting and of age, do what you want and call it what you will.

So. Consent. Really, consent is the most important thing when it comes to sex. If there’s no consent, it’s not sex. This can’t be stressed enough. A simple “yes” is not always enough to count as consent, and just because nobody clearly said the word “no” doesn’t mean they consented. According to a survey of 2752 students carried out by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI, A Study of Students’ Experiences of Harassment, Stalking, Violence & Sexual Assault, 2013), 16 per cent of students reported having experienced unwanted sexual contact while in their educational institution. Only 3 per cent of these reported the incident. 57 per cent did not believe that the incident was serious enough to report and 44 per cent did not believe that what had happened was a crime. If you experienced unwanted sexual contact of any kind, you have every right to report it. You do not have the right to touch someone in any sort of manner – especially a sexual manner without their consent.

Sexual health, while talked about a lot, can never be talked about enough.

It ties into countless issues that can be debated, from mental health to female reproductive rights. This being said, there are some things that must be remembered: consent is vital, don’t do anything you don’t want to do, and be responsible. Sex should be fun, just make sure to take steps to avoid any potential pregnancy or STI scares.

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