Safe sex in the sun

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TEENAGERS and young people from Mid-Ulster who are heading off on holiday are being warned this week about the dangers of drinking too much alcohol in the sun.

Alcohol is one of the contributing factors which encourages young people to engage in casual sex and this leads to a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).

The Public Health Agency is reminding young people to protect their own health and that of their partner by taking a number of precautions.

Eugene O’Goan, Project Co-ordinator of Cookstown-based TIPSA (Teens Involved In Protecting Selves Around Alcohol), stressed the importance of the link between alcohol and risk-taking behaviour.

“Teenagers need to understand the power of alcohol, especially when they’re in a euphoric, fun situation and they’re away from home for the first time. They really need to keep their wits about them and make the right decisions,” he told the MAIL.

The most recent figures for Northern Ireland (2010) show that new STI diagnoses increased by six per cent, compared to 2009.

New HIV diagnoses rose by 20 per cent, (to 79 new cases), and the number of people living with HIV infection, increased by 12 per cent compared with 2009 (to 474 people). The diagnoses of the other main sexually transmitted infections also increased.

Of the new HIV cases in 2010, for one in three, the likely source was through sex between men and women, the majority of whom acquired their infection abroad.

Dr Bernadette Cullen, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, said they wanted to remind sexually active people of the dangers of HIV and STIs, and the importance of safer sex practices, particularly when they are in holiday mood and perhaps in a more relaxed environment.

“Untreated STIs can result in serious health issues such as infertility,” she said. “While it may be thought that young people and men who have sex with men (MSM) are particularly at risk, the safer sex message applies to everyone.”

Dr Cullen said people can be infected with HIV and STIs without having any symptoms, so it is important to protect yourself and to stop the spread of infection to others.

“Use condoms, limit the number of sexual partners, and get checked at your GP surgery or your local Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic, if you have put yourself at risk,” she added.

For information or advice on STIs, or to discuss any sexual health issue, contact your local GUM clinic or your GP.

Further information can also be obtained from the ‘Health Protection’ Directorate on the PHA website, www.publichealth.hscni.net.

You can also download the PHA booklet Don’t Gamble With Your Sexual Health, from the ‘Publications’ section of this website, along with information on the GUM clinics in Cookstown and Magherafelt.