If you’re reading this, you are likely a health professional, and may feel that you are already well-aware of what safe sex is, and how to practice accordingly.
With the acknowledgement that since 2012, gonorrhoea and HIV were reported as being on the rise, it is time for Australians to really think honestly and openly on just how safe their sex practices are.
This means thinking about safe sex EVERY encounter, not just ‘most’ times.
What is Safe Sex?
Safe sex involves consensual sexual intercourse (Sexual Health Australia 2015) that protects you and your partner from sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies (Better Health Channel 2016).
In safe sex practices, bodily fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions, do not transfer from one person to another (Better Health Channel, 2016).
Wounds and body parts that could be infected (or cause infection) should be covered by a condom or dam/dental dam (Sexual Health Australia, 2015).
Some other things to consider may be whether you or your sexual partner may have a latex allergy. There are non-latex condoms available made of polyurethane (Better Health Channel 2016).
The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA 2010) explain that most people who suffer from a latex allergy are those who have been exposed to latex over many years. This means that you or your co-workers, as health professionals, are some of the most at risk. ASCIA conveys that doctors, dentists and nurses make up a significant proportion of people allergic to latex (2010).
The Cold Sore Virus
It is crucial to avoid infecting others or being infected.
The cold sore virus, HSV-1 (Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1), is a life-long infection and spreads via saliva or immediate contact with blisters (Better Health Channel 2015). However, it has begun to be common around the genitals (ABC Health & Wellbeing 2016).
Cold sores can spread around to other bodily parts with it being a particularly bad complication if it spreads to the eye/cornea, thus impairing sight (Better Health Channel 2015).
Sometimes cold sores can be spread without warning symptoms as they are particularly infectious in their first few days as the blister forms (Better Health Channel, 2015).
Kissing, close contact (e.g. cuddling) and sharing items that are contaminated by blister fluid, saliva or skin cells (e.g. toothbrushes, drink bottles, towels) can also lead to transmission of cold sores (Better Health Channel, 2015).
When you think of safe sex, you may not associate it with activities such as oral sex. However, Sexual Health Australia states that ‘unprotected oral sex can also spread some STIs, particularly herpes, gonorrhoea, and syphilis’ (2015).
Sexual Health and Ageing
Middle-aged and older males in Australia were found to have positive correlations between frequency of sex and self-reports of ‘good health’ (Andrology Australia, 2014).
Andrology Australia (2014) suggest that sexual health should be included in healthy ageing research, with a third of men aged over 70 years still maintaining sexual relationships.
Sexual Health Australia (2015b) highlights that ‘healthy sexuality depends on good mental and physical functioning’. Additionally, Sexual Health Australia convey that sexual difficulties are quite common and that sex can have quite an influence upon emotional wellbeing. For example, people can experience performance anxiety or sexual aversion.
An interesting ABC (2016) comment highlighted that a study showed that in people aged 47-85yrs, females that found sex to be satisfying had less hypertension than those that were less satisfied. However, the report also indicated that the male participants of the study ‘who had sex once or more a week were at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems’.
There are still various issues for females in ageing regarding sexuality (Women’s Health Program, Monash University 2010). For example: ill health preventing sexual intercourse; medications associated with sexual dysfunction; less sexual thoughts and satisfaction in ageing; and physical changes such as those associated with decreased oestrogen levels.
It is quite apparent that both men and women can experience sexual issues, especially as the ageing processes occur. The Monash University Women’s Health Program (2010) put forward the importance of seeking advice from medical officers or counsellors if sexual health concerns arise.
Promoting Sexual Health in a Patient or Client
Points to consider if a patient or client presents with signs or symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection include:
- Be aware of any wounds and damaged skin that may be placed in contact with others
- If the patient has engaged in unprotected sexual contact (of any form)
- If the patient has engaged with a new sexual partner
- If the patient engages with multiple sexual partners
- Does the patient have an allergy to latex?
- When was the last time they had a sexual health check?
The best advice is to have a full sexual health checkup conducted if a patient or client – of all ages and genders – presents and identifies with any of the above points (Safe Sex No Regrets n.d.).
There is nothing sexy about an STI. So let’s promote safe sex.
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- ABC News 2016, ‘Regular, pleasurable sex healthy for ageing women but risky for older men, study finds’, ABC News, 7 September, viewed 10 March 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-07/study-finds-sex-healthy-for-ageing-women-risky-for-older-men/7824250
- ABC Health & Wellbeing 2016, ‘Genital herpes: Can you get it during oral sex with someone who gets cold sores?’, ABC News, 16 September, viewed 10 March 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2016-09-16/cold-sores-and-genital-herpes/7537050
- Andrology Australia 2014, ‘Healthy ageing: what has sex got to do with it?’, Andrology Australia, 7 February, viewed 10 March 2017, https://www.andrologyaustralia.org/2014/02/healthy-ageing-sexual-activity/
- Australian Society Clinical Immunology and Allergy 2010, Latex allergy, ASCIA, Brookvale, NSW, viewed 10 March 2017, http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/product-allergy/latex-allergy
- Better Health Channel 2016, Safe sex, Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC, viewed 10 March 2017, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/safe-sex
- Better Health Channel 2015, Cold Sores, Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC, viewed 10 March 2017, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/cold-sores
- Women’s Health Program, Monash University 2010, Females sexuality and changes with age, School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, viewed 10 March 2017, http://www.med.monash.edu.au/sphpm/womenshealth/docs/female-sexuality-and-changes-with-age.pdf
- Safe Sex No Regrets n.d., Testing for STIs, Northern Territory Government, NT, viewed 10 March 2017, http://safesexnoregrets.nt.gov.au/freetesting.html
- Sexual Health Australia 2015a, Safer sex, SHA, Bondi Junction, NSW, viewed 10 March 2017, http://www.sexualhealthaustralia.com.au/safer_sex.html
- Sexual Health Australia 2015b, Male Sexual Health, SHA, Bondi Junction, NSW, viewed 10 March 2017, http://www.sexualhealthaustralia.com.au/male_sexual_health1.html
Madeline Gilkes focused her research project for her Master's of Healthcare Leadership on Health Coaching for Long-Term Weight Loss in Obese Adults. She also has a Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate in Aged Care, Bachelor of Nursing, Certificate IV Weight Management and Certificate IV Frontline Management. Madeline is an academic and registered nurse. Her vision is to prevent lifestyle diseases, obesogenic environments, dementia and metabolic syndrome. She has spent the past years in the role of Clinical Facilitator and Clinical Nurse Specialist (Gerontology and Education).