How to Take Care of Your Sexual Health on Holiday
When you’re on holiday, it feels like all bets are off with regards to your wellness, and so your judgement goes out the window. Sure, it’s ok to indulge in good food and a cheeky cocktail – you are here to enjoy yourself – but taking care of your sexual health is a different story. When you have unprotected sex on holiday, the sun, sea and sand don’t change the fact that you can contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or become pregnant. This is why it’s important to protect your wellbeing when having sex on holiday, and know where to go for help if you need it.
In England, 427,000 new cases of STIs were diagnosed in 2011, rising by 2% from the previous year. Your in the highest risk groups for getting an STI if you’re a straight (heterosexual)15-24 year-old, or a man who has sex with men (MSM). According to sexual health consultant Dr O’Mahony, who sees a clear increase in the numbers of patients during the summer at Chester Sexual Health GUM clinic, ‘People usually get symptoms a week to two weeks after they get back from holiday. People let their guard down on holiday, and some drink and then do things they wouldn’t dream of at home.’
The problem with STIs is that not everyone develops symptoms, and so your wellness could be affected without you even realising. Chlamydia, for example, doesn’t cause symptoms in 50% of men and 70-80% of women who are infected. Similarly, if you get HIV you tend to experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection, but then HIV often causes no symptoms for several years after this. Still, there are some symptoms you should watch out for – whether you’re on holiday or not – including unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when urinating, bleeding after sex or between periods and itching, sores, blisters or lumps on or around the genitals. As STIs are more common in some countries, having unprotected sex could increase your risk of these nasty symptoms and infections.
As you probably already know, using a condom can greatly reduce your risk of pregnancy and STIs, so it’s important to include protection when you’re packing. You might not be able to find condoms when you’re on holiday, and they may not have the CE mark which indicates that they have been tested to the high safety standards that are required in Europe. Buy a pack of condoms before you go away, and keep then away from any oil-based products in your suitcase. Condoms can be damaged by moisturiser, lotion (including sun cream), baby oil and even lipstick, and heat can also be a problem so you should store your condoms in a cool, dry place when you get there.
If you’re on the Pill, patch or implant, your holiday could make this pregnancy prevention less effective. If you can a stomach bug, the vomiting or diarrhoea can interfere with the pill, while some antibiotics and anti-malaria drugs can get in the way of all kinds of contraception (barring the condom). However, long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods, such as the injection, intrauterine system (IUS) and intrauterine device (IUD), are not affected by illness or medication. Still, if you are on the Pill, patch or implant and need prescription medication while you’re away, you should tell the doctor about your contraception and make sure you use a condom while taking the meds, and for 28 days afterwards. Dr O’Mahony adds, ‘Try to avoid having injections in developing countries if you can. Most antibiotics for STIs can be taken orally. Ask for a copy of your drug leaflet [the leaflet that comes with your medication and for details of tests and results, and bring them with you when you have your check-up at home.’