A few months ago I began my mission to create an engaging education program targeting youth in New Brunswick for outreach and prevention of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. I wanted to provide information that would be relevant, engaging, and well presented. What I found was if one knows where to look; there is good information already out there. There are web sites, articles, blogs, reports, and much, much more on STI’s, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. I focused on collecting facts. In my quest for facts I started to mold my Power Point presentations and had some collaborating meetings with peers. Things were progressing nicely. Facts were being checked, suggestions were being made, and the program was gaining momentum. Ironically, I found that as I formulated the answers to basic questions about STI’s, and HIV/AIDS such as: What are they? How do they affect the body? How are they transmitted and how can we prevent them? I formed new questions of my own.
If we now know more about STI’s, HIV/AIDS why are we seeing a significant increase in new infections among our population?
According to the Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study1 it was found that youth in 1989 were more knowledgeable than in 2002. While numbers of pregnancies have decreased in the past decade or so, the cases of STI’s have been on the rise. This might suggest that while teenage girls are using more birth control to prevent pregnancies the use of condoms is still not practiced in many cases to protect from STI’s. Male and female condoms are effective at preventing STI’s (not 100% safe) because they provide physical barriers as compared to other contraceptives (the “pill”, or the “ring”, or the “patch” or the “shot”).
Dr. Denis Allard, New Brunswick’s deputy chief medical officer of health says too many people believe a condom is all that’s needed to protect them. “Oral sex is a much lower risk activity for the spread of HIV, however syphilis is quite easily transmitted through oral sex. This was in response to reports on the outbreak of syphilis in New Brunswick. 2
I believe there are still too many misconceptions out there that are causing youth (and the less youthful) to think they are not at risk. One of these is:
The belief that oral sex or anal sex is a safer sex behavior could be one main factor. While these behaviors prevent pregnancy they still present risks for infections if no protection is used (especially anal sex, which is a high risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections). This is because the lining of the anus is thin and can easily be damaged, which makes it more vulnerable to infection.
STIs that can be passed on through anal sex include:
The fifth edition of Canadian AIDS Society’s HIV Transmission: Guidelines for Assessing Risk: A Resource for Educators, Counsellors and Health Care Professionals 4 provides a comprehensive guide to assess risk for HIV transmission. Anal sex (penile-anal) without a condom presents a high risk of infection for both the one giving (insertive partner) and the one receiving. While there are more cases of infection attributed to the receptive partners of anal sex there is still a significant number of receiving partners to make them at high risk also. Because the mucosal tissues of the rectum and the urethra offer ideal conditions for transmission it is recommended that condoms and sufficient lubricant be used every time.
These issues reinforce the fact that comprehensive sexual education is needed in our schools. Students seem to be accessing information on their own, and while this is a great place to start, we still need an informed person made available to them to reinforce the things that are accurate, and correct any misunderstanding. In-class presentations give a visual exchange of information, which is likely to encourage knowledge retention and behavioral change. Having someone that is knowledgeable, and more importantly, comfortable discussing these topics will be more effective in delivering information.
Here are just a few of my favorite sites for information on sexual health and HIV/AIDS:
Publication Date: 2003-09-09 www.cmec.ca