The Capilano Courier talks to a doctor about removing the stigma from narratives on sexual health
Kaileigh Bunting // Contributor
In the last few years, talking about sex has grown from shameful whispers in the corners of loud bars to the 3D cinema. Headliners like Fifty Shades of Grey and Kinky that openly talk about sex and desire have become more mainstream than ever. However, despite the media coverage, real talk about safe sex and sexual health in positive spaces remains a taboo topic among young adults.
According to the 2017 Report of Sexually Transmitted Infections in Canada, the rate of reported STIs has been increasing “since the late 1990s and continues to be a significant public health concern in Canada…[and] the rates of chlamydia increased by 39 per cent, gonorrhea by 109 per cent and infectious syphilis by an alarming 167 per cent.” Despite this rise in STIs among adults, the conversation around sexual health is quieter than ever. When there are conversations, they are negated with derogatory language that further empowers the negative stigma surrounding people with STIs.
Dr. Sue Turgeon, a family physician located in East Vancouver, recognizes the importance of educating young adults on sexual health and notes how stigma can negatively impact people. “Sex education is far more than the nuts and bolts,” Dr. Turgeon said. “I think really good sex education explores the dynamics of communicating how to keep yourself safe, how to respect your body and respect the body of someone else.” Many adults — whether in long term relationships or not — still feel shame, stigma and a lack of empowerment when it comes to asking about STI prevention, contraception and other important questions regarding their sexual health. Not only can this lead to unwanted infections, but it can add unnecessary stress on relationships in the form of distrust, dishonesty and embarrassment.
Furthermore, these infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Dr. Turgeon stated that unfortunately, this issue is worsening due to an increase in antibiotics used in animal agriculture and patients demanding antibiotics for inappropriate reasons such as for the flu or a common cold. Improper use of antibiotics has led to bacterial and viral sexually transmitted infections to mutate and become resistant to medication. While this may alarm patients, it simply means that antibiotics need to be one step ahead of these infections — something that continues to be successful in Canada.
Asking a physician questions regarding sexual health is a great avenue for education but Dr. Turgeon realizes this might not be possible for many people. “Education shouldn’t be fear-mongering,” said Dr. Turgeon, recommending Options for Sexual Health Clinics located around Vancouver. These locations offer a safe and compassionate space for anyone interested in learning more about their sexual health and can provide free STI screenings. Their website also offers an abundance of reliable information and an anonymous “Sex Sense” forum where through phone or e-mail a “team of registered nurses, counsellors, and sex educators offer information and resources on sex, sexuality and sexual health.” Dr. Turgeon encourages people to take advantage of clinics like Options that offer free contraception and HIV preventative care drug pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). She also stresses that while PrEP prevents patients from contracting HIV from sex, the drug does not protect against sexually transmitted infections and other protective measures should be taken when sexually active.
As frustrating as it can be to navigate the social waters when it comes to talking about sexual health in this new decade, initiatives at CapU are fighting to break down barriers. The Capilano Students’ Union plans to host a Sex Toy Bingo event with the goal to instigate stigma-free conversations surrounding sex. Overall, the Sex Toy Bingo event hopes to spark compassion around uncomfortable topics and promote curiosity amongst students who find themselves undereducated regarding issues of sexual health.
In all, Dr. Turgeon hopes that “decisions about becoming sexually active are made from a position of feeling empowered” and that proper education can enhance the confidence people have to start conversations with the people they are sexually active with and keep themselves and the people around them safe.