Sexual health remains a highly taboo subject, no matter how old you are.
But changing attitudes and better awareness of the risks and dangers of sexually transmitted diseases has led to an increase in the number of people of all ages getting screened for infections.
Nevertheless, sexual health doctors and nurses are still battling to persuade the general public of the importance of getting themselves checked and educating themselves on the risks and how to avoid them.
In December last year, a new sexual health hub was opened at the St Mary’s Community Health Campus in Milton Road, Milton.
After the Department of Health decided anyone who wanted access to sexual health services should be seen within 48 hours, the NHS began boosting its services in the area.
On top of that, there is currently a major screening drive to tackle chlamydia infections.
While statistics show the number of recorded cases of infections of all types is going up, the NHS says it does not necessarily mean more people are getting infected.
But better testing and screening campaigns has led to more people getting themselves checked out.
Heather Pay is the lead nurse for clinical practice at the sexual health clinic in the St Mary’s Community Health Campus in Milton.
She said: ‘Getting yourself checked for sexual infections is one of the simplest things and it can be as painless as you want it to be.
‘You can have sex as often as you want, with whoever you want, just please do it safely.
‘There are some nasty infections around and you don’t want gonorrhoea or HIV or herpes.’
Heather has worked as a nurse in sexual health since the 80s and has seen first-hand the change in attitudes which has come in recent years.
She says two of the most difficult to reach groups are young men who are nervous about being screened and older people who didn’t learn about the importance of contraception when they were younger.
‘I love what I do, and sexual health is so important,’ added Heather.
‘It tends to affect most members of the public at some time.
‘It’s a very emotive subject that often gets overlooked and only in the last 10 years have people paid more attention.
‘Young people in particular really don’t see anything wrong with popping in for a sexual health screening.
‘They’re more than happy to come and get screened and it’s totally acceptable.’
A major screening drive for chlamydia is currently under way in the area.
Unknown to most, chlamydia can lead to reproductive problems which can be permanent if it is left untreated.
People aged between 15 and 24 can now request a free home testing kit from the NHS, which explains the sudden surge in reported cases from 821 in 2009 to 1,038 in 2011.
The clinic at St Mary’s is open six days a week and provides a huge range of services all to do with sexual health.
They can test for, and treat, sexually transmitted infections, provide free contraception, emergency contraception, HIV testing and treatment, and sexual health advice.
Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea are now as easy to treat as anything you might see your GP for.
But staff at the St Mary’s unit have noticed an unfortunate downside to this progress.
Some people repeatedly put themselves at risk and contract the same infections by not practising safe sex, because they know a treatment is readily available.
They ignore the long-term side effects on their immune system and the risks of getting more serious infections.
Heather says: ‘I see cases like that more often than I would like and it’s not just young people, it’s older people as well.
‘We’re saying to people it doesn’t matter if you get chlamydia because we have antibiotics.
‘But the downside is people think it’s okay to get it and come in for treatment over and over again.
‘We have to make sure people don’t get it in the first place.’
Solent NHS Trust, which runs the sexual health service for the whole of Hampshire, is still looking for ways to tell more people about the importance of getting screened.
They have recently embarked on an advertising campaign titled ‘Let’s Talk About It’ which is aimed at showing people how easy it is to find their nearest clinic.
They also welcome invitations from schools and community groups who might want to invite speakers to talk about sexual health.
The trust also wants to hear from people who have used the service and can offer feedback on how to make the experience better.
Heather, the lead nurse from the St Mary’s clinic, says the role parents play in educating their children about sex is also very important.
‘If your parents are very open and talk to you about sex then you’re going to have a fairly healthy approach,’ she said.
‘And parents need to be accepting of the fact their children are going to have sex.’
For information about the service or to find out where you can get advice or get screened for infections, visit letstalkaboutit.nhs.uk or call 0300 300 2016.
You can also request online a free home screening kit to test for chlamydia.
SEXUAL HEALTH CLINiCS AROUND THE AREA
· PORTSMOUTH at St Mary’s Community Health Campus
Monday: 8.30am to 11.30am and 4pm to 7pm
Tuesday: 8.30am to 11.30am and 4pm to 7pm
Wednesday: 8.30am to 11.30am and 4pm until 7pm
Thursday: 8.30am to 11.30am and 4pm until 7pm
Friday: 8.30am to 6pm
Saturday: 9.30am to 11.30am
· FAREHAM at Fareham Health Centre
Monday: 3pm to 7.30pm
Wednesday: 3pm to 7.30pm
Thursday: 3pm to 6pm
Friday: 8.30am to 12pm
· GOSPORT at Gosport War Memorial Hospital
Tuesday: 11am to 7.30pm
Thursday: 12.30pm to 7.30pm
· COSHAM at Cosham Health Centre
Tuesday: 3.30pm to 6pm
Thursday: 1pm to 4pm
· HAVANT at Havant Health Centre
Monday: 4.30pm to 7pm
Tuesday: 8.30pm to 12pm
Thursday: 4.30pm to 7pm
· WATERLOOVILLE at Waterlooville Health Centre
Monday: 4.30pm to 7.30pm
Wednesday: 1pm to 4pm
Friday: 4pm to 6.30pm
· For more details about opening times visit letstalkaboutit.nhs.uk. To find your nearest clinic text ‘clinic9’ and your postcode to 66777.