By Aaliyah Gohir - Editorial Assistant (MWN Hub)

As part of Sexual Health Day (STIQ Day), it is vital that we raise awareness about sexually transmitted infections and diseases and put an end to the taboo nature that surrounds this topic. STIs are infections that can be passed on to someone via close sexual contact, thus through unprotected sex, anal sex, and oral sex. Examples of bacterial STIs are chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis and an example of a parasitic STI is trichomoniasis, while HIV/AIDS are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). When you have an STI, you are infected by microorganisms such as bacteria, a virus or parasites but symptoms may not be apparent. A STD is when this infection enters the body and impairs its normal functioning. For example, chlamydia or gonorrhoea has the potential to develop into pelvic inflammatory disease, meaning it would be considered as an STD. Therefore, most STIs can be easily treated, however if left untreated, they can potentially lead to serious health problems. The best way to prevent them would be to use protection during sex, while also taking care of your sexual health by getting tested regularly for STIs.

STIs should not be ignored; in 2018 there were 447,694 new STI diagnoses made at sexual health services.

This means that STIs must be a topic that we are open and honest about in order to have good sexual health. Unfortunately, this is not the case and the stigma around this subject results in people denying having STIs, and even avoid getting tested. STIs should not be ignored; in 2018 there were 447,694 new STI diagnoses made at sexual health services.

An underlying cause of this problem may be the lack of education and understanding about sexual health and safety, especially amongst the South Asian communities where such topics are not spoken about particularly because sexual relationships outside of marriage are considered taboo. STI/Ds also affect married women too where women have been infected by an unfaithful spouse. Sometimes these infections / diseases can lie dormant in a woman's body for a long time (e.g. months or even years) before manifesting in any symptoms. Also, pregnant women could even risk passing on STIs to their baby during delivery when the infant passes through an infected birth canal. Most South Asian women are unlikely to be aware of such facts and hence the importance of sexual health education.

The lack of awareness about sexual health may explain why the largest proportional increase in all new STI diagnoses was in people of Asian ethnicity, where rates increased by 16% between 2018 and 2019

The lack of awareness about sexual health may explain why the largest proportional increase in all new STI diagnoses was in people of Asian ethnicity, where rates increased by 16% between 2018 and 2019, which was primarily for gonorrhoea (36%) and chlamydia (27%). This should not be surprising as many South Asian families tend to opt their children out of participating in Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) lessons where sexual health is discussed. They may impose strict rules such as not talking about such issues and not permitting relationships, but young South Asians are sexually active as evident from Muslim Women’s Network Helpline calls, where young women have called about unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

Another recurring issue on the helpline is the pressure to have sex or to engage in particular sexual acts such as anal sex or oral sex. Young women and also sometimes married women have complained that it was something they did not enjoy nor want to do but felt they had to. Consent is so important – no woman should be coerced into anything they do not want to do. This is why healthy relationship education in schools is so important. The impact of missing out on it can last for the rest of a woman’s life making her more vulnerable to be in unhealthy relationships.

I therefore welcome that PSHE education has now become compulsory in all schools from September 2020 - Health Education and Relationships Education in primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in secondary schools. Schools will be required to consult parents when developing the content, but it will ultimately be a decision for the school on how to proceed. Although consultation will not mean that parents can block the content, I am concerned that in some communities, pressure (that may not necessarily even come from parents) could result in certain topics not being covered adequately. We will have to wait and see how it all works out in schools and hopefully in time some good practice can emerge for others to emulate.

For further information about STIS, visit this website

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