Barbados needs to have a conversation about sex.
Admittedly, it’s not a topic that most might feel free to bare all—no pun intended—but hushed silence and whispers under sheets and behind closed doors won’t help us to deal with this subject so vital to life itself.
Moreover, the idea that sex is still a taboo subject is downright hypocritical. It is simply a part of life, like breathing and eating.
We can’t argue that sex is, however, a private matter between consenting adults, but there are times it becomes a glaring public issue and therefore we must talk about it.
Yesterday, health authorities reported that there has been a worrying rise in the number of pregnant women contracting syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Figures provided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness revealed that the number of cases rose from an average of two a year through to 2015, to 17 in 2016, and preliminary analyses from 2017 show a similarly high rate.
The ministry did not say what was responsible for this rise, but it expressed concern at the “abnormally high rate of syphilis in pregnant women and, by extension, an increase in the number of babies born at risk for congenital syphilis”.
Senior Medical Officer for Health with responsibility for the HIV/STI programme, Dr Anton Best expressed deep concern that it was coming on the heels of a spike in syphilis cases among men reported in June 2017.
The Ministry of Health said then that the number of syphilis cases overall jumped between 2010 and 2013.
The number of cases moved from 24 in 2011 to 41 in 2012, and 112 in 2013. There was, however, a drop to 100 new cases in 2014. Nearly three-quarters of the cases (72 per cent) occurred in men aged 15 to 49.
Just think that for every reported case, there are perhaps hundreds more that go unreported, which means that the harmful spread continues.
It really is no laughing matter. Everyone should be concerned by these figures—even those who practice safe sex or are not sexually active.
Why? Because this infection can affect our daughters, sons, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles and, yes, even grandmothers and grandfathers, causing permanent damage.
Experts warn that syphilis, if left untreated, can lead to serious and possibly even life-threatening conditions such as nerve disorders, mental disorders, blindness and more.
With respect to babies, Dr Best pointed out that congenital syphilis was a potentially severe, disabling and often life-threatening infection that was transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and/or delivery, which could result in premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects, blindness and hearing loss. It could also lead to stillbirth and infant death.
But all of this could be avoided if we heed the message echoed time and time again from our health authorities.
Practise safe sex—that is, sex with a condom with one faithful partner—or, better yet, abstain.
Unfortunately, in today’s world where sex sells, pornography is widespread, lewd music entices us to “get on bad” and casual relationships are the rave, too many senselessly engage in reckless behaviour.
It is disturbing that even with all the information we have about sexually transmitted diseases, too many are still willing to act and then regret later. It is an even greater shame that too many still think that drugs are a cure-all for STIs.
We really have to keep our clothes on, or simply make better choices.
Given the current of state of affairs, authorities must update their strategies to help counter this dangerous trend.
Dr Best has advised that mandatory screening for pregnant women is already in place. But more so, those who know they engage in unsafe practices should seek testing and learn their status, get treatment and change their behaviour.
Equally, a public education campaign is a good tool to alert the public to think twice about their choices.
And enough can’t be said about parents having frank talks at home with their children about the dangers of unprotected sex.
As difficult as it is for some to come to terms with, many young people are not waiting for marriage to become sexually active. They will not magically learn how to protect themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy without guidance.
So, we have talk and, better yet, lead by example for the sake of our health.