We’re fortunate to be living in a time when it’s OK to talk openly about sexual health. But with so much information out there, unpicking the facts from the myths can sometimes be tricky.
UK-based sexual health charity FPA aims to educate the public about sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing, especially during our annual Sexual Health Week. Although our campaign this year centres on consent, I’d also like to discuss how medical technology plays an important role in supporting people’s sexual health.
The way we look after our sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing has changed enormously over the last 60 years. The pill revolutionised the lives of many in the 1960s and, since then, medtech developments have given women the choice of long-acting contraception methods such as the implant and IUS (hormonal coil) – which are highly effective at preventing pregnancy – as well as newer hormonal methods such as the contraceptive patch and vaginal ring.
While most contraceptive methods are still focused on women, I believe many men want to share greater responsibility for preventing and planning pregnancy. Scientists around the world are making inroads into more contraceptive options for men, such as male hormonal contraception and non-surgical vasectomy in the form of an injectable gel that blocks the flow of sperm.
Aside from contraception, raising awareness and education around sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – especially for younger people – is another critical part of sexual health. Condoms when used correctly, are the most effective ways to help protect against STIs, as well as prevent pregnancies. These medical devices now come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and textures and can also be used to enhance sexual pleasure.
Easy and confidential access to STI testing is also central to sexual health. As sexual health services in the UK struggle with reduced funding, new innovations such as home-testing kits for STIs – which may include a urine test, swab and blood sample being collected at home and sent off to the lab – are becoming more important in my opinion.
In the digital age, there are a growing number of health apps designed to support people with their sexual health. These are exciting developments and can be helpful for things like period tracking and planning a pregnancy, but can be variable in quality. There’s currently no system to independently review and check apps in the UK, but the NHS is moving to address this with their apps library available here.
Of course, the physical aspects of sexual health are only one side of the coin. I believe it’s also about emotions, relationships and communication. That’s why the theme of this year’s Sexual Health Week was “Consent: Yes, yes, yes!” We wanted to start conversations about consent and how to give it, get it and ask for it. Consent isn’t just about saying no to what you don’t want, it’s about giving an enthusiastic yes to what you do want, and making sure that a partner gives an enthusiastic yes too. For more information about Sexual Health Week 2018, click here.