Confessions of a Hostel Bar Tender

You know what people always say about the news never being good?

Well, the more I’ve looked into the state of Sexual Health in my home country of Australia, the more I seem to come up against this kind of news.

I’ve had my fair share of sexual health problems over the years.

Working the traveller/backpacking hostels back in my youth had many benefits: cheap/free beer, a place to crash after a night out and a limitless supply of excitable, young girls who were a long way from home. I understand that I might not be coming across as the best example of a human being, but it’s hard to blame a fresh out of school 20-year old for taking advantage of the situation. I’d spent my entire adolescence being ignored by girls, my skater-boy look was one that was outdated, but something I’d stuck with well after the trend had died off.

But, whilst my matted dreadlocks and baggy jeans weren’t appealing to the local girls, I soon found that the look was a winner with the droves of visiting tourists and backpackers. Before I knew it I’d stumbled across an entire new nomadic population of young exotic people who were not only intent on exploring the country, but also wanted to find out what it was like to sleep with a real Australian and I was more than ready to let them find out.

Unfortunately, I was often less interested in protecting myself than I was in enjoying myself. By the time I was finished with that job I simultaneously discovered that I’d stumbled my way into a good relationship. Before sleeping with this person for the first time, my new partner asked if I could take a sexual health test. It was the first time I’d taken one and had never even thought about taking one before that point. I took the test and, needless to say, was more than a little surprised to find out that I had been carrying at least three separate maladies simultaneously

Although I was aware that STIs were a thing and that every time I slept with a new partner I was risking infection, I’d always assumed – and you’re really going to hate 20 year old me now – that the women I was sleeping with were not only going to be clean, but also cleaner than me.

I was the definition of a dirtbag. A selfish, irresponsible idiot who had little or no real care for those I was sleeping with and you could say that I got what I deserved. Thankfully, that woman who gave me the wake up call didn’t abandon me when I needed her most (something I would definitely have done if I was in her position) and I was able to get a complete recovery.

Why do I not feel guilty disclosing this?

Because the state of Australian sexual health education is in dire need of reform. Because rates of infections of STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea have been steadily rising for years now.

Because only by confronting the true state of our Sexual Health can we work to improve it for the sake of all of us, as well as future generations of Australians.

Is That All? From Teenage Angst to Breast Implant Removal

Our teenage years are equally revered and reviled in hindsight.

At no other time in our lives do we experience such a maelstrom of changes, both physical and emotional.

Throughout puberty we not only have to contend with our quickly changing bodies, but we are simultaneously thrust into the adult world and must make decisions that serve to define the very course of our lives. At the time we are living through these years each argument, break-up and sleight feel like earth-shaking events. Although they might well seem trivial when recalled years down the line, I believe that it’s really important not to undersell the gravity of some of these earth-shaking moments as many of them can have real wide reaching consequences that can provide you with some real insight into how you act in the present day.

Take for example one of my earliest sexual encounters. Before I get you on edge (or excited…): don’t worry. I’m not about to launch into gory detail about how I lost my virginity in the back of a some teenage dirtbag’s beat-up Camaro (which totally didn’t happen…). I’m about to tell you the story of how my body dysmorphia was born, a condition which would end up costing me thousands of dollars but, more importantly, thousands of hours of my life.

Let’s call him Kevin, because it’s the first name that has come into my head and it’s also a name which I associate with good people (I’m looking at you Kevin Smith!).

Kevin was in my Maths class, he was smart and had kind eyes and is definitely in no way to blame for any of the conditions that I have struggled with in my life, but an experience that we shared when we were 14 years old was enough to trigger a thought process that would still bump around the dusty corners of my mind to this day, leading to voluntarily put myself under a surgeon’s scalped twice: once to ‘fix’ my body and the second time to receive breast implant removal that would return me to my previous state.

‘Is that all?’

Never were crueller words spoken by a teenager. We had spent months building up to this stolen moment behind the school gym. Months of furtive glances from me, whilst I was blissfully ignored by a boy who was too absorbed in his equations to realise that he was the subject of a fiery romantic story that played on repeat in my head whilst I slowly but surely forgot about everything else in my life. He was surprised if anything when I finally cornered him on the way back from lunch, but he was quick to pick up on my rather obvious signals.

Our first kiss was a long, drawn out sloppy affair. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I reached up and pulled his head into mine. Of course, like any normal teenage boy his hand lingered very briefly on my waist before rising and groping for a handful of something gorgeous, voluptuous and sensual that he’d seen in magazines, on television and in films. I felt like I was being patted down, searched (in vain) for a phantom smuggled prize that would prove to him my burgeoning womanhood. Suffice it to say, I came up in short in that department.

It took nearly two decades to overcome that initial sleight. Kevin was a good boy, but he was still a boy: tactless and blunt.

Body dysmorphia is an issue that affects thousands of people the world over with a variety of damaging consequences. Find out more about it here.

Constructing Nigeria’s Future: From Sex to Masculinity

I live in a country with the 7th highest population in the world.

Compared to more developed nations, who are more likely to have a significantly older population, the demographic makeup of our country is skewed heavily towards the youth.

It’s been estimated that a third of our country’s population could be classed as ‘young’: aged 19-24 years old. The lives of these young people; their education, upbringing and the socio-economic environment that they grow up in will determine the future of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, ours is a society that has been at the mercy of immense poverty, rigid proto-religious belligerence and an uncaring government – so what can be done to ensure that the millions of young people in Nigeria not only live to reach their potential, but also have a chance to form healthy, balanced sexual relationships?

I believe that a concerted effort has to be made to invest in sexual health services in order for our country to not only survive, but prosper throughout this century and the next. So, what does this investment look like? Unlike other countries who have well structured health systems with employees from a culture with healthy attitudes to sex; Nigeria’s health system is managed and worked by people who have little or no understanding of the importance of education.

It’s important to note that before we invest money in the architects, levels, land surveyors, planners and doctors needed to construct the clinics required to teach and treat these young people, we need to drastically alter the way that our entire country perceives sexual practices and behaviours.

I grew up in Ilorin, a city known throughout Nigeria as ‘the Home of Peace’, however my adolescent years as a woman in this city were anything but peaceful. From the age of 12, I’ve had to guard myself from the eyes, hands and genitalia of the men of this city. I’ve done this through various means. I’ve dressed in shapeless clothes, avoided populous areas and spent many evenings inside my home; this isn’t because all men in this city wish to rape me, it’s because there is an underlying culture in our country (and throughout Africa) that encourages male-dominated relationships and discourages female empowerment in all of its forms.

The notion of masculinity in our country has not changed for centuries and is defined by strength, a desire for sex and the subjugation of women in all its forms. Whilst developed Western countries are certainly not free of this kind of ‘toxic masculinity’ (as it is described today), it is the backbone of our male psyche here in Nigeria. Planning, building and opening a sexual health clinic is an easy task compared to the daunting challenge of changing the way that an entire country thinks.

Attitudes, habits and behaviours do not change overnight. They are not changed by with a single pamphlet, or a TV advert, or a celebrity-endorsed billboard. I know that it will take time for significant

Sex Talk: 04/06/18

In this semi-regular series of blogs our writers are going to take a look at what’s been going on in the world of sexual health.

The way that we view sex and sexual health is constantly changing and with the internet providing a continually expanding blank canvas for the thoughts of millions.

We thought it would be interesting to take a couple of recent news stories related to sexual health and gauge the reactions of our culturally diverse writers. This week we’ve asked Max and Ziva to cast their eyes over the Sexual Health news stories from around the world: there’s a lot been going on, from STIs on the rise to social breakthroughs in Ireland…

Dublin University introducing Sex Programme

Open frank discussion of sex in Ireland has always been something of a taboo. In a state where 78% of the population identify as Roman Catholic it is perhaps unsurprising to discover that many young people, living with one foot in a sexually repressed past and the other in a brave new world of gender-norm shifting, have been seeking answers to questions that their parents simply do not have for them. Enter Dublin City University who are due to launch their first ever educational course entirely based around sex and sexual health.

The course will focus on a wide range of topics from the contraction of STIs to the social issues facing the LGBT community. The move comes after a strategy revealed a number of alarming truths about the state of sexual health in both narrow and broad sexually active groups of Irish people.

Max’s take: ‘I’ve always had a certain affinity with Irish people. I believe there’s a lot that we have in common in terms of cultural perceptions; although I feel, despite these similarities in our religious backgrounds, Italians are much more relaxed when it comes to attitudes towards pre-marital sex and LGBT rights, obviously the variables at play here are far reaching, but this course should go a long way in reshaping perspectives.’

STIs on the rise in England

Statistics arguably don’t get much more worrying than this, especially if you’re a sexually active individual with a penchant for unprotected sex. The number of reported diagnoses of syphilis rose by 12 percent between 2015 and 2016 , rising to 5,920 – the highest it has been since 1949. Public Health England, who released the full report recently, noted that a large portion of these cases could be attributed to transmission between gay and bisexual men.

420,000 separate diagnoses of STIs were recorded during 2016, a 4% decline compared to 2015, but still a worryingly high statistic that is said to have the largest effect on heterosexual individuals between the age of 15 and 24, black minorities and men who have sex with other men. PHE have described the current situation as an ‘ongoing sexual health crisis‘ – but is it one that is beyond control?

Ziva’s take: ‘I spend a great deal of my time working with young people, with some of our courses focusing exclusively on carefully educating young people on safe sex. It can be too easy to wag your finger and tell them that unprotected sex is wrong, but shaming or scaring this young demographic doesn’t help the situation. In my groups I’ve found that frank discussion to break down these sociological barriers.’