Sex has always been a touchy issue.
It excites, it sells, it’s complex.
Normally, sex is a private affair, less so in today’s bold, brash society, so there’s every reason for authorities to bear all even when the facts are a slap in the face.
This evening came the alarming news that the rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) remains high and rising.
The cold, hard facts outlined by Senior Medical Officer of Health Dr Anton Best with responsibility for the STI programme in the Ministry of Health show that our young people, the most productive of society, the future of this country continue to engage in risky sexual behaviour and they are paying a high price.
The most recent data – 2016 to be exact – shows the prevalence of chlamydia at 13.6 per cent and gonorrhea at 2.7 per cent among patients screened through the Ladymeade Reference Unit laboratory.
The majority of persons, about 70 per cent, were between 15 and 29 years old.
At the same time, a study of trends on syphilis between 2010 and 2014 revealed that the number of cases moved from 24 in 2011 to 41 in 2012, and to 112 in 2013. In 2014, there were 100 new cases, indicating that the dramatic increase in syphilis cases seemed to have stabilized. Dr. Best revealed that the majority of cases (72 per cent) occurred in men, with three-quarters of cases occurring in the 15 to 49 age group.
Preliminary assessment of new syphilis cases for 2015 and 2016 reveal that the rate of new cases has stabilized.
It is worthy of consideration, the fact that for every reported case, there is perhaps hundreds more that go unreported, which means that the harmful spread continues.
That our young people are engaging in risky behaviour is a surprise to no one. But what is interesting is that for all the information at our disposal – available on every and any social platform, including the real life devastating stories of peers and strangers alike – our enlightened generation still persists with folly.
It’s frankly disturbing that young people are still willing to act and then regret later; that they still think that drugs are a cure-all for STIs.
As with any difficult issue, there is plenty blame to go around – the lack of parenting, vulgar music, ubiquitous pornography, not to mention the poor examples from adults.
Perhaps we could start with the fact that sexuality is something that most people still try to pretend is not an inherent part of being human. Adults are completely flustered by it and shy away from discussing it.
In Barbados, a simple discussion on sexual education in schools easily turns into a ludicrous exchange on morals in which children are often shielded from the truth even though the data shows we are simply burying our heads in the sand to cry in pain later.
Let it be made clear that, as suggested by Dr Best, “the only way to completely avoid STIs is to abstain from vaginal, anal or oral sex.”
Like it or not, abstinence remains the first and best message we must impart to our children, our youth, in our homes, schools, and communities.
Still, we have to face up to the reality that many are already sexually active, so discouraging unsafe sex – whether it is education in the classroom or village – promoting safe sex with one partner who has tested negative and the correct use of condoms may be the best ways to start.
There is no magic bullet for an STI epidemic. As a society we have to straighten up, take responsibility for our action, and break free of destructive sexual practices.
It is matter of life or death.