Health & Wellbeing

Why Sexual Health is Always Up for Discussion

Sexual health can sometimes be seen as a taboo topic to bring up, however PhD Student, Emmalee Ford, reminds us ahead of SHAG Week of the importance of having such discussions.

I’m doing my PhD in the science of reproduction. I want to find ways that we can understand and manage our own fertility and reproductive health. This could be through treating complex diseased-induced infertility, or simply by knowing what’s normal south of the belly button.

Part of my research is looking at how people find the information they need when they want to know about fertility, pregnancy, or being sexually healthy. What I’ve found is that with all the information out there, people are still having trouble getting the answers they need. Studies show time and time again that people of all ages rate GPs as their the most trusted source of information, but it’s also been shown that we don’t always seek the help of a doctor for our questions. Why?

Lots of factors can affect whether or not we’ll look for a doctor’s opinion; financial situation, time constraints, anxiety, but often it’s embarrassment. When talking about reproductive health, STIs, and even fertility can be taboo subjects for many people. Maybe we don’t want to waste the doctor’s time, or we have strong feelings about what others may think about us or our lifestyle. So it’s not surprising that we turn to the Internet. In fact, more of us use the Internet for health information than we do for online shopping!

Studies across the world often find that even though university students know how to find information, they hardly ever seek to verify if it is reliable or recently updated. One study found that a third of students will go no further than our favourite user-generated online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, even when they recorded that they were aware of the unreliability of the site. To try and change the pace a bit, one study looked at how successful social media was at providing sexual health information to young people (16-22 years), and the participants were more concerned with the “drama” that might occur if they engaged with the content on Facebook than by improving their knowledge about sexual health.

Unfortunately, STI diagnoses are rising in Australia. We’ve seen a 60% increase in the rate of STI testing over the last 20 years and as such we’re getting closer to understanding how widespread these infections really are in the population. Chlamydia is Australia’s most popular STI and infection rates have tripled over the last decade. Gonorrhoea is another bacterial infection that, like Chlamydia, is more common amongst young people. These STIs, if left can cause lasting, systemic damage to the reproductive system. The good news though is that if detected early, they can be eliminated by a short course of antibiotics.

Even if you’re not thinking about starting a family now or anytime soon, our reproductive health is still so important for us living as functioning human beings. Our reproductive systems exist on an axis with our brain, with the transfer of signals and hormones between all working to keep us (somewhat) stable. This controls not only our regular bodily functions and helps us enjoy sexy times, but also can control our moods, behaviours, and for those with female-assigned reproductive systems, body temperature and bone density!

The world we’re moving into demands of us to be scientific citizens. We have to be empowered to learn about the things that aren’t right in front of us. Things that might be beneath the surface or years away. We have to learn how to critically analyse information that’s around us. Is it true? It is recent? Is it what I’m looking for? Finally, speak to your healthcare professionals! Be interested in your health and remember there’s nothing that’s off-limits.

Feature Image: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition via

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