For years now, Hamilton has been the source of jokes about STIs and Chlamydia, and rightly so. We proudly stood high atop the STI community as the best of the worst. Bear in mind, this was a chart that included the likes of Taranaki and Huntly, so we really earned it.
However, recently we have slipped all the way back to fourth place, behind Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. This got us a little curious as to whether this was the result of good planning, good luck, or just Lyam moving to Ireland. So we decided to do the rarest thing in student journalism, and ask some questions.
We conducted an unofficial sex survey in which 60 people responded. The questions ranged from condom use to STIs. We then contrasted this with some of the data from recent Family Planning surveys (after we spent 20 minutes laughing about the name Family Planning - because we’re children). Finally, rather than using the magazine to further our own agenda or trying to sit you down and have a conversation, we’ve just let other students tell you what their own fears, reasons and concerns are.
We found that 30% of students always use a condom during sex, while another 30% rarely or never use a condom.
“I use condoms each time because I’ve had bad experiences with hormonal contraception - it’s super annoying how guys complain about condom use when you’ve experienced the side effects yourself!”
“I don’t use condoms with people that I’d like to sleep with regularly, like boyfriends or people who are bound to turn into something more. If I don’t feel comfortable around someone or I know they get around, then I’ll use one - I’m more likely to use a condom if I don’t want to sleep with them again.”
“I use them with new people but not with people I know and trust. I always have supplies if needed, although often the people I’m with have supplies as well.”
Alternative forms of Contraception
Our survey showed 40% of students use no alternative contraception outside of condoms.
“I’ve had a judgemental nurse before in small town NZ. That definitely took some recovering from and is sadly something I always prepare myself to encounter now. :/ That’s not normal or acceptable and people should know they don’t have to stand for it if it happens to them.”
STIs: Regular tests, the reality, and the stigma
21% of students surveyed have never had an STI check-up.
“I get regular, routine STI check ups. They’re a normal part of being a grown up. It’s better to know and get it sorted than not know and let that shit fester or spread them around. This is Hamilton after all.”
“I’ve had an STI check-up before but I found it super invasive, uncomfortable and painful so it’s definitely a massive put-off. Like I went to a clinic by the hospital...there was a metal clamp, there was lube, it was scary AF.”
As 41% of kiwis use apps and the internet for casual sex, it would be assumed that a condom would be an integral part of a first meeting. A Ministry of Health media release in November 2018 said otherwise, revealing that 1 in every 5 first sexual encounters do not involve a condom, with a Durex study finding that 25% of Kiwis don’t use a condom because they “didn’t think about it.” It’s no surprise that we outrank Australia in STI rates.
Our survey also revealed that Waikato students place more importance on avoiding an STI than avoiding pregnancy, and yet such a number of us are failing to use protection. Over 40% of respondents have used the morning after pill, while 14% currently have an STI. With New Zealand seeing a rise in the number of syphilis cases, following international trends, why is condom use so infrequent? 82% of chlamydia cases reported between 2013 and 2017 were aged 15-29 years, while in 2016 HPV was most commonly found in 20-24 year olds, and syphilis most commonly found in 20-29 year olds. In contrast, the rate of teenage pregnancy halved between 2008 and 2017. If these statistics are anything to go by, avoiding an STI should be a top priority for students.
With the often painful and sometimes long lasting effects of an STI, the fact that pregnancy is relatively more accepted now that we’re out of high school (albeit not likely to be any easier), and the evident knowledge among students that using a condom is the safe thing to do, what is causing the lack of young people practising safe sex?
In a Family Planning report released in March this year, emphasis was placed on the need for comprehensive and quality relationship and sexuality education in New Zealand schools. Only 30% of survey respondents felt that their school sex ed was useful or very useful while nearly 40% of students , with the report stating, “We asked young people what they wish they’d learned. [...] comments indicated that young people want more from their relationship and sexuality education.” One student stated that they wished they had learned, “Everything, as we were taught so little.” Another student wrote, “I wish it had been a lot more important. It all felt so secretive and there wasn’t very much of it. I always felt like we were doing something wrong by learning about it, and always had to act like it was dumb or embarrassing or not cool, because I didn’t want to come across as wanting to know more.”
In the internet age, safe practices like using a condom or using an alternate form of contraception aren’t exactly glamourised, and with 60% of students turning to the internet for more information, it’s possible that safe sex isn’t at the top of the priority list. The study conducted by Family Planning concluded, “a large proportion of young people have expressed dissatisfaction with the relationship and sexuality education they received at school. [...] Particularly in the era of the #metoo movement, and new discourses around gender, sex and human rights, we can and must do better with our relationship and sexuality education in schools.” So is a lack of confidence in our high school education to blame for the scarcity of condom use in our university students?
Now, as adults out in the big bad world, it’s up to us to take precautions to keep ourselves and our partners safe. We’re old enough to be having the hard conversations with our significant other, and that involves contraception and STI prevention. Consider this article Nexus’ formally encouraging condom use and safe sex, like a protective older sibling. Wrap it before you tap it, kids.