Taking care of your sexual health on holiday
Worldwide, more than 1 million STIs are transmitted each day. Read on to find out more about the risks of unsafe sex, and how to protect yourself from STIs while holidaying.
Taking care of your sexual health on holiday
Going on holiday is an excellent way of escaping your daily routine and a chance to relax and let loose, but the last thing you want to do is put your wellbeing at risk. If you’re planning your next trip abroad, then preparing yourself against the risks of unsafe sex will ensure that you return home safe and well - without any unwanted extras.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of catching and spreading an STI, although some factors can increase your vulnerability. Drink and drug use can lower your inhibitions, which may mean you are less likely to use a condom properly or make the best choices generally.
Infections can be transmitted through vaginal fluid, blood, ejaculate and pre-ejaculate, as well as infected skin, such as sores in the mouth. Any form of sexual contact can accommodate the spread of sexual illnesses, although unprotected anal sex is thought to be the most risky, as it can often cause bleeding.
Don’t Rely on Judgement Alone
Remember that many STIs can be asymptomatic, and may go undetected without proper medical testing. Many people suffering from chlamydia do not experience any symptoms, and this number is particularly high for women. HIV can be active for as long as ten years before symptoms begin to show, and research shows that it can be transferred at a much higher rate during the first three months of infection. HIV, along with some other infections, is also more prevalent in certain countries and so it’s important to also understand the increased risks of sexual activity in certain parts of the world.
The point is, it’s impossible to make a judgement based on appearances. As many as one in two individuals will suffer from an STI by the age of twenty-five, and condoms are the only form of contraception which protect against STIs.
And always keep in mind that even if your sexual partners tell you that they do not have any STIs, or don’t appear to be suffering from any symptoms, the safest option is to always use a condom.
Understand the Signs
Although some STIs can be near-impossible to detect without proper screening, it is still important to recognise the signs of an STI. Some of the most common symptoms include:
If you or your partner experiences any worrying symptoms, it is important to seek treatment from a sexual health clinic as soon as possible.
It’s a very good idea to pack condoms before you travel abroad, as in some countries they are not subject to the same rigorous standards for health and safety. If you’re travelling in Europe, properly tested condoms will come in packaging printed with the CE mark, but if you’re outside of the EU, these may not always be readily available or easy to find. And, as always, check to make sure they have not broken or expired.
…But Always Prepare for Accidents
A well-known statistic shows that condoms are around 98% effective, but this is only true when they are used perfectly; human error lowers their efficacy to around 85%. Products such as sun lotion, after-sun cream, lipstick and Vaseline can break down latex and cause condoms to split – exposing you to STIs and the risk of unwanted pregnancy. Luckily, if your condom breaks, or you feel that you have had unsafe sex, there are still things you can do to support your sexual health.
If you’re in a remote area, or without any convenient means of travel, it may be difficult to find a sexual health clinic within reach. Even if you do, you can’t always trust the medications you receive whilst travelling. For this reason, one of the quickest and simplest ways to prepare for any eventuality is to buy antibiotics online while you’re still in the UK.
Preparing yourself with the right travel medication can give you peace of mind when travelling abroad, as you may be in an area where the medications available to you are unreliable. Doxycycline is an antibiotic that has been shown to lower instances of some infections following unprotected sex, providing you with an extra level of protection if you feel you need it.
If you’re sexually active, then it’s important to get tested for STIs at least once a year, and if you’ve had sex while travelling then be sure to check-in with your sexual health on your return. Bear in mind that some STIs may not necessarily be detected immediately after exposure. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia will take around two weeks, while syphilis can take anywhere between one week and three months.
Even if you experience none of the symptoms of an STI, prevention and regular testing is paramount to maintaining your sexual health.