Tag Archives: Sexual health clinic

British Schools Desperately Need Same-Sex Sexual Education

Young gay men embracing

Discovering I was gay in the overbearingly macho culture of 1990s South London – and in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, with its imposing tombstone advertising campaigns – was scary and isolating. If that wasn’t enough, I also grew up in a huge Greek-Cypriot family with parents who were actively involved with the local church. This all amounted to a mountain of repressive crap for a little gay kid to have to climb.

You’d think the education system would have been a place where society’s judgemental, moralistic tones would be given a rational perspective – where religious doctrine would be balanced with scientific fact. Unfortunately not, if – like me – your teenage years are spent in a Roman Catholic school. As such, my sexual identity was a source of shame. It became buried within pervading fears of rejection from the people who put a roof over my head. No wonder so many young LGBTI kids are so desperate to flee their rural towns or villages.

My coming out was a long and painful process. I didn’t have any gay friends so I went out to a bar and made some. One of my earliest sexual experiences, aged 19, resulted in me being raped by two guys who took advantage of me after getting me drunk.

I didn’t report the incident to the police or my teachers because I didn’t feel I could. (With Section 28 still in place at the time, my Catholic school would hardly have been much help.) I didn’t tell my family because I feared their reaction to finding out I was gay. I didn’t even go to a sexual health clinic because I didn’t know that option was open to me. I didn’t do a lot of things, because nobody told me I could.

Sadly, little has changed since then in terms of our attitude towards educating young people on having healthy, informed sex lives. As long as you’re not causing harm to anyone else, being able to enjoy your body as you desire to is a pleasure we are all entitled to. Education about sex, relationships and sexual health during a young person’s formative years is key to this. It teaches an open dialogue, encourages young people to seek advice and help, and empowers them to challenge situations where they feel pressured into unwanted experiences. What kind of society do we exist in that puts children and young adults in a place where they have to discover these basic life skills without any support?

I’d like to say we’ve moved on from the 20th century education system when it comes to sex and relationship education (SRE). But while the world might have made all sorts of other huge leaps, the teaching of young people about the fundamental aspects of human existence – sex and relationships – seems to have remained in the dark ages.

Our world is highly visual now, and the fact that porn is so stupidly easy to access online presents another problem: while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with consenting adults having sex in front of a camera, what’s harmful is that teenagers aren’t been taught the difference between fantasy and reality. Through the access to apps and websites, a young gay teenager can end up in a sexual situation that he or she is not prepared for.

Yet, schools are still not required to teach any SRE beyond the very basic lessons about the procreating benefits of inserting a penis into a vagina. A dismal 25 percent of young people consulted by the Sex Education Forum considered their SRE to be “good” or “very good”. Even Ofsted described SRE in English schools as “not yet good enough”.

“Anything we learned at school was about heterosexual sex,” says James Hansom-McCormick, 24, originally from Nottingham and now living in Surbiton. “It was all about how to have a baby or how not to have a baby. No information about STIs. It was completely isolating. They’re teaching that heterosexual sex is the right thing to do, so I’m thinking: ‘Are my feelings wrong?’ There was nowhere I could go to for information.”

For many gay men, the first awareness of facts surrounding HIV and other STIs comes via the advertising in gay clubs, bars and gay media. For young teenagers who are just discovering their sexuality and have yet to engage in the wider gay scene, there’s a dangerous lack of accessible, correct information. And if schools don’t teach it, you can be sure most parents aren’t addressing it, either.

“Friends would joke about what they’d heard – like chlamydia – but we didn’t know what it was,” James tells me. “I was having so much unprotected, casual sex at 16 and 17 and had no idea about HIV until I contracted it.”

Does he feel he would have been more cautious if he knew the facts at a younger age? “Completely. I think it would have put a stop to me having unprotected sex.”

There’s a very real problem when the first meaningful encounter the vast majority of guys or girls have with sexual health information comes when they attend a clinic because they have a problem. Young gay guys are afraid to speak to their teachers or friends about sex for fear of reprisals. In the eyes of the law we may have more equality for LGBTI people since Labour scrapped Section 28 and the Tories delivered us equal marriage, but equality does not deliver acceptance. It takes time for laws to have a fundamental effect on society’s views.

What needs to happen for a change of attitudes towards LGBTI people is for all types of relationships to be included in statutory age-appropriate SRE lessons in schools. Discussing LGBTI rights within this framework challenges the homophobia that is sadly all too common in schools. Children aren’t born homophobic – they learn such behaviours from their immediate environment. If your parents have antiquated views, it’s hard, as a kid, not to absorb them.

I believe it’s the education system’s responsibility to teach respect and acceptance for all lifestyles, regardless of sexuality. That even applies to my Catholic school in Croydon, because tolerance and love transcends religious rights.

No doubt certain Daily titles will decree that educating kids about LGBTI relationships in schools will see swathes of children suddenly become homosexual. But we all know that’s just not going to happen. Sexuality might be a fluid scale, running from fully gay through to fully straight, but surely the larger outcome of same-sex SRE, in tandem with standard SRE, is that LGBTI people will feel their identities are no longer a source of shame. They’ll be able to go to their teachers for advice rather than suffering in silence.

Over the years, as well as editing QX magazine – the UK’s most widely-read free gay publication – I have campaigned for myriad gay issues, from organising protest rallies outside Downing Street, to highlighting the plight of LGBTI Russians, to running countless features on the day-to-day problems affecting gay men today, from drug addiction to mental health.

But this campaign is perhaps more important than all of those. Why? Because the roots of so many of these problems can be traced back to the same thing: the fact that, often for around a couple of decades, gay people are forced to live two lives. I wouldn’t have lost the first 24 years of my life to fear had my teachers at school made it clear – even in just one of our hour-long classes – that it was OK to have the feelings I had. I probably would have even gone to the police after that night when two men sexually assaulted me.

It was with all this in mind that, earlier this year, I met with other gay media to address the issue of same-sex SRE in schools. They gave their immediate support. I then went to the other key gay health agencies and charities to sound them out on the subject. One of the first people to meet me and commit to supporting this campaign was Dr Yusef Azad from the National AIDS Trust (NAT). He immediately saw the importance of tackling sexual health issues in adults at an early age.

NAT had already been campaigning for all schools to provide SRE for some years, so adding their voice to this LGBTI-specific issue was a natural step. The organisation came on board as a major supporter, lending its expertise to formulating the initial press release and launch campaign.

“Ofsted has described current SRE provision as ‘not yet good enough’, and as many as 85 percent of gay and bisexual men also tell us they received no information about same-sex relationships in school,” says Susie Parsons, Chief Executive at NAT. “The result is unacceptably poor mental and physical health among gay men. HIV diagnoses among young gay men have doubled over the last ten years. In our recent research, young guys who are attracted to other guys told us that they want to receive information on HIV from teachers at school. But we’re clearly not meeting this need.”

Others were quick to show support and, before we knew it, we had over 20 signatories from a broad range of LGBTI organisations – from health charities to groups focused on youth and education. Three key figures to sign on were human rights activist Peter Tatchell (who has been vocal in his belief of how vital inclusive sex education is, saying that “sexual and emotional literacy are just as important as literacy in reading and writing”), Dr Christian Jessen and Lord Norman Fowler. For those who don’t know, Lord Fowler is the man who battled from within Thatcher’s government in the 1980s in the fight against HIV/AIDS, despite strong resistance from his own party. I met him at a book signing in August and asked him to come on board. He was wholeheartedly in favour of the concept, and it was, naturally, a major coup to have such a respected Tory figure as a supporter.


The Evening Standard carried the story before we issued the press release to national media last month. It was timed to coincide with the start of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour conferences.

During their conference, the Lib Dems confirmed that SRE for children aged seven onwards would make their manifesto next year, but it’s unclear whether this will include LGBTI relationships. At the Conservative party conference, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan spoke to the Terrence Higgins Trust attendees and discussed the issue of sex and relationships education. “We had a good conversation,” reveals Daisy Ellis, acting policy director at THT. “It was great to hear her talk positively about the importance of preparing young people for life in modern Britain. We believe SRE is a key part of helping young people prepare for their adult lives and we hope that the Education Secretary agrees with us.”

Other signatories, such as Stonewall and LGBT History Month, joined the campaign. By this point we now had over 28 key LGBTI groups supporting us. It was quite overwhelming to see so many organisations agree to focus their support for the same cause.

Two weeks ago I met with one of David Cameron’s advisors, who seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. We spoke for over two hours about the issue, in great detail, while he made notes.

The interest from the Lib Dems and the Conservatives (hello, Labour?) doesn’t mean anything, of course, because the disillusioned masses no longer view politics as a force for making a difference in the world – rather, a popularity contest that’s all about winning votes. And will the SRE campaign (which must include same-sex SRE) ultimately be a vote winner? I’m not sure. Will it make the manifestos of the political parties next year? I hope so. I have faith that good people will see sense and change will come. The emotional health and physical wellbeing of every child and teenager needs this to happen.

Last week, VICE replied to an email from me and were enthusiastic about supporting this campaign, which is another powerful voice on our side. This week, the National AIDS Trust and I posted our open letters (view the letter in full here) signed by all 28 LGBTI signatories to David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. The ball is now firmly in their court.

Story via Vice

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HIV testing offered at Berkshire library and other public buildings


A sexual health charity is to offer HIV tests at a public library in Berkshire.

Thames Valley Positive Support (TVPS) is offering tests at Bracknell library and at community buildings in Wokingham and Newbury.

The move comes after the success of its Time to Test project, which began offering tests at Tesco Extra in Slough.  The charity said it decided to offer appointments in public places in order to “normalise” HIV testing.

Jessica Harding, deputy chief executive of TVPS, said: “It has been hugely successful. We weren’t actually anticipating the overwhelming demand we had.

“We had people travelling from all over the country to see us.”

‘Huge fear’

The scheme will begin on Tuesday in Bracknell. Tests will be held on Wednesdays at Broadway House, Newbury, and Thursdays at the Salvation Army centre in Wokingham.

Ms Harding said: “It is definitely normalising testing – also there is a huge fear from quite a few people that they will be recognised if they go to a sexual health clinic, so this takes away that barrier.”

The twice weekly testing at Tesco, which originally ran as a six-week trial, has now been extended until December.

Story via BBC



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Unsafe Sex in the City

Tonight, BBC3 will go behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic for a new four-part documentary, Unsafe Sex In The City.

The documentary explores the dangers faced by young people who have unprotected sex and follows the stories of patients whose passionate encounters have led to physical and emotional anguish.

The programme goes behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic in Manchester, with staff recounting traumatic stories as well as sharing humorous anecdotes about their efforts to protect youths from sexually transmitted infections.

The show isn’t typical family viewing, but parents of teenagers and sexually active people may want to consider it.  Tonight’s patients include 22-year-old Kervin, who forgot to “strap up” before a one-night stand; a pink-haired 17-year-old who doesn’t believe in monogamy or protection; and a smooth-talking womaniser who’s far less full of himself after being interrogated and prodded by a no-nonsense nurse.

A BBC spokesman added: “BBC3 are excited to have access to one of the country’s busiest sexual health clinics.”
The show airs tonight at 9pm on BBC3, repeated at 12:15am on Thursday morning (25th) – Then again on Saturday 27th at 3:05am – or view it on BBC iPlayer.
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PEP stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis and is a treatment that may prevent HIV infection after the virus has entered the body.

Post = After
Exposure = A situation where HIV has a chance to get into someone’s bloodstream, like unsafe sex.
Prophylaxis = A treatment to stop an infection happening.

PEP Treatment: 

  • Involves taking anti-HIV drugs for four weeks
  • Must be started as soon as possible after unsafe sex or a condom not working, straight after exposure or within 24 hours is best and no later than 72 hours (three days)
  • Has side effects
  • Is likely to stop HIV but isn’t guaranteed to work

Where do I get PEP?

  • Sexual Health clinics (GUM clinics) – at Leicester Royal Infirmary or the one in your city / town
  • Hospital Accident & Emergency department (A&E) – be prepared to ask for PEP as soon as you can after you book in.
  • Not all of these places in every part of the country will have PEP or be able to prescribe it

PEP – Post Exposure Prophylaxis

How soon?

  • It is best to start PEP straight after exposure or within 24 hours and no later than 72 hours (three days later). The longer you wait there is less chance it will work, after 72 hours PEP isn’t usually given as it’s unlikely to work by then.

But if HIV is in my body doesn’t this mean I will now be infected?

  • No. After HIV gets into your bloodstream it takes from a few hours to a few days before it permanently infects you. If you act in that short time you stand a chance of stopping HIV before the infection takes hold.

How does PEP work?

  • Taking anti-HIV drugs every day for four weeks might stop the HIV before it gets a permanent hold in your body. PEP is not a ‘morning after’ pill that’s taken just once, it’s one month of drug treatment.

So if someone takes PEP they won’t become HIV positive?

  • Research shows PEP makes infection with HIV a lot less likely. But PEP doesn’t always work, some people who take it still end up with HIV after treatment. PEP can fail because some anti-HIV drugs don’t work against some strains of HIV. It’s more likely to fail if it’s not taken properly or soon enough.

Are the drugs the same as the ones taken by people with HIV?

  • Yes, you take three drugs which are also used in ‘combination therapy’ taken by HIV positive people.

Is PEP a cure for HIV?

  • There is no cure for HIV. PEP can only stop the HIV infection if it’s taken very soon after it has entered your body and before the infection takes hold. Once the HIV infection becomes permanent then anti-HIV drugs can’t get rid of the virus. This is because it is not in parts of the body the drugs can’t reach. Once HIV permanently infects someone the drugs can usually control the HIV in their body but can never get rid of it completely.

Does PEP have side effects?

  • Yes, it can cause diarrhoea, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Because of the side effects, you may need time off work or study and some people have to stop taking it. Side effects go once you stop taking the drugs. One Australian study showed that among people taking PEP, side effects were mild to moderate for two out of three people and severe for one in four.

What are the chances someone will get PEP?

  • New guidelines have been given to Sexual Health Clinics that help doctors decide if PEP should be given. A doctor will need to ask questions about:
  • Who you had unsafe sex with, to identify the likelihood of you having HIV.
  • What kind of sex you had, when it happened, whether it was oral, vaginal or anal sex and whether either of you came inside the other.
  • Doctors might sometimes give PEP after oral sex, depending on the circumstances.
  • It’s worth thinking about PEP if you or someone you had anal or vaginal sex with didn’t use a condom or something went wrong with the condom and it’s not later than 72 hours (3 days) since it happened.
  • They will also talk to you about having an HIV test. Before you are given PEP you must have a test to check you don’t already have HIV. You must also agree to be tested after taking PEP to see if it’s worked. PEP won’t be offered if you refuse to be tested.

What if I can’t get to a place that has PEP within 72 hours?

  • After 72 hours PEP won’t usually be offered so if it’s not possible to get to a Sexual Health Clinic in time it is advisable to go to a hospital Accident & Emergency department because they never close.

If I take PEP can I become resistant to HIV drugs so they won’t work if I get HIV later?

  • No, it’s HIV, not your body that can become resistant to the drugs. If PEP works it gets rid of the virus – and the virus can’t become resistant because it’s not there anymore. So if you were to become HIV positive later and needed drugs if wouldn’t make any difference that you took PEP in the past.
  • But if PEP doesn’t work and you become HIV positive, there may be problems with the HIV in your body being resistant to some drugs, including ones used in PEP.

If I’m taking PEP does that make me immune to HIV while I’m on it or when I’ve stopped taking it?

  • No. Unsafe sex while taking PEP could let more HIV into your body, making PEP much more likely not to work.
  • If, after taking PEP you have stayed HIV negative and then you have unsafe sex again, you can become infected just like any other HIV negative person.

Now we have PEP does it matter so much if I don’t use condoms?

  • PEP doesn’t change the need for condoms, here’s why:
  • Using a condom is more likely to stop HIV being passed on than PEP is.
  • Condoms don’t make you ill with side effects, which PEP can.
  • You need a condom for as long as the sex lasts – but PEP lasts for four weeks.
  • Condoms are everywhere. PEP can be hard – sometimes impossible – to get.
  • You control getting hold of condoms but doctors decide if you should get PEP and they may say no.

How many times can I have PEP?

  • Doctors decide who gets PEP and they’re unlikely to give these expensive and powerful drugs to the same person time after time. So if you keep having unsafe sex you will usually be offered help with having safer sex rather than being given PEP lots of times.
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Sexual health teams ‘should offer alcohol advice’

Young people should be given advice on the dangers of alcohol when they access sexual health services, a group of health experts has recommended.

Surveys suggest one in five people who access sexual health services drink too much

The Alcohol and Sexual Health Working Party says the NHS is missing “key opportunities” to tackle the problem.

It suggests alcohol and sexual risk-taking go hand-in-hand.

Meanwhile, government advisers say everyone should be asked about their diet, smoking and drinking habits every time they see a health professional.

‘Multiple partners’

The Alcohol and Sexual Health Working Party was created by the Royal College of Physicians, supported by the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).

Its report says more than 1.5 million young people attend clinics dealing in sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) every year, and surveys suggest one in five attendees consume dangerous levels of alcohol.

Often the conversation is about excusing behaviours – just the language which is used, ‘I got off my face, I got wasted’”

Dr Simon Barton Alcohol and Sexual Health Working Party

“STIs mostly affect young persons under the age of 25 years, and 16 to 24-year-olds are among the highest consumers of alcohol,” the report says.

“People who drink hazardously are more likely to have multiple partners, thus increasing the risk of acquiring an STI.”

The study notes consumption of higher-strength alcoholic drinks has increased, particularly among girls. While men still consume more alcohol than women, young women are more likely to report feeling drunk.

It added: “Earlier alcohol use is associated with early onset of sexual activity and is a marker of later sexual risk-taking, including lack of condom use, multiple sexual partners, sexually-transmitted infection and teenage pregnancy.”

In a sample of more than 2,000 15-to-16-year-olds from the UK, 11% regretted having sex under the influence of alcohol, the report said. Some 82% of 16 to 30-year-olds also report drinking alcohol before sexual activity.

‘Ideal time’

Dr Simon Barton, chair of the working party, wants the government “to support commissioning arrangements” so trained health professionals can challenge behaviour in that “reflective moment” when someone comes to a sexual health clinic asking why something has happened to them.

“Often the conversation is about excusing behaviours – just the language which is used, ‘I got off my face, I got wasted.’ It was if it was happening to them passively,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Everyone knows that alcohol fuels risky sex – so a sexual health check-up is the ideal time to broach the subject”

Dr Janet Wilson BASHH

“We are trying to ensure they reflect on their behaviour.”

Dr Barton said failing to discuss alcohol consumption with a patient accessing sexual health services was a missed opportunity.

“At a time when the NHS is looking to save £20bn, this is a perfect example of quick-win efficiency that could save money in the long term,” he added.

The report – Alcohol and sex: a cocktail for poor sexual health – says all clinicians providing sexual health services should be trained in asking about drinking habits. Patients should also be referred for further support if they need it.

Dr Janet Wilson, president-elect of BASHH, said: “Everyone knows that alcohol fuels risky sex – so a sexual health check-up is the ideal time to broach the subject.”

The NHS Future Forum, which advises the government on its health reforms, wants all healthcare professionals – from doctors and nurses to physiotherapists and pharmacists – to raise lifestyle issues as a matter of routine.

Prof Steve Field, head of the independent body, told the Guardian: “In future if you come for your flu vaccine at a GP’s surgery or pharmacy, the health professional should give you your injection but also use the opportunity to talk to you about your diet, smoking, alcohol intake and how much exercise you’re taking, discuss any anxieties you may have about these, and offer advice and support.”

The forum’s call to make “every contact count” is the centrepiece of a report commissioned by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, and due to be published next month.

Original Article via BBC News

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