Last month, the Kirby Institute released their 2016 annual surveillance report of STIs and blood-borne viruses in Australia. What the report found was that the rates of almost every STI, excluding HIV, have increased quite steadily in Australia since 2006. Syphilis had one of the highest rates of new diagnoses, jumping from 843 in 2006 boosting to a whopping 2,736. Over this same time period, gonorrhoea rates per 100,000 people doubled for both men and women.
These statistics may not seem so surprising given Australia's lax attitude towards safe sex. Last year, market research company Roy Morgan found only 11 percent of Australians 18 years and older actually purchased prophylactics in the last six months—a figure that hasn't changed since 2011.
So with STIs on the rise, and a country seemingly unconcerned about it, VICE asked six people who don't use STI preventatives to explain their reasoning.
Laziness is one thing. Sensation is another. The biggest the reason why I don't use protection; however, is that I just don't like having a piece of rubber or plastic around my penis.
I suppose that's selfish but for someone like me who doesn't practise safe sex, I feel I have a somewhat safe sex life. I don't really have sex with people I don't know. I'd rather have sex with someone I know and trust—as well as someone I can be open with about sexual health. I feel it's integral to be able to communicate with your partners about sexual health.
I also get regular blood and urine tests every two months. If I've had more partners than what I'm used to then I'll get a check up more frequently. I feel this method protects me from getting an STI but, you know, if I was going out to clubs every weekend trying to pick up random people, I'd have a change of heart. I know sometimes you don't get symptoms so fair enough if you don't know if you have an STI but I feel if you're an adult and sexually active, you need to get regular tests, regardless of whether you use protection or not.
It's not so much that I'm against safe sex, it's that people don't practice it and I hate having to have that conversation. If someone pulls out a condom, for example, I'm fine with it. It's just that people either don't have them or they refuse to. There have been so many times where I'll ask someone to use a condom and they'll get real argumentative or offended that I asked. Having to deal with that conversation and the attitudes that men have—I just can't even be bothered. It's easier to not use one.
The way people talk about using condoms—or about people who demand to use condoms—doesn't make it any easier to have that conversation as well. You don't want to have them to have them talking about you to their friends behind your back.
In saying all this, I am concerned about getting an STI. I contracted chlamydia when I was younger but I suppose it's cognitive dissonance or even naivety—you just don't think it'll ever happen to you. I like to think if someone had an STI they'd say something, but the reality is that's not true.
I'm not against condoms. Sex does feel better without a condom, but it's not so much better that I'll avoid them or try to convince someone to not use one. There have just been a lot of times where it doesn't happen. There are factors like being drunk or high, or she won't want one, or even there just won't be condoms. It's never been a conscious decision for myself to not use protection going into a sexual experience.
If I had to explain why, it'd be that I'm a very impulsive person. I find there's always those competing motives going into a sexual experience where on one hand you have that knowledge about the importance of safe sex but, on the other, you just want to feel good. If you don't have a condom on you—or if they don't want you to—you're just going to fuck them.
I'm concerned about not using protection, it does really worry me. I've caught STIs in the past and it's made me a lot more aware. It's not an excuse at all but I do feel it comes down to those competing motives. Once you throw drugs in the mix, there's only one thought you're going to end up listening to.
For me, it's mostly an incorrectly placed apathy. If there's a lack of suggestion in the throes of passion, I'm generally more interested in the now. Asking puts a pause on everything and can really ruin the atmosphere. It's not a conscious decision to avoid them, especially if it's with a partner or someone I know. There's an assumed trust that people are being honest and getting checked. I've never had an STI so I suppose I don't have any fear.
I also find it's guys to blame. Not that they don't want to use protection—there's actually a lot of pressure for safe sex—but just that they don't carry condoms as much as you'd think. The irony of this; however, is that if a girl starts carrying condoms it send offs a message that she's getting a lot of it. The safer you are with your sex, the more it looks as though you're having a lot of sex.
I feel it's really important to say as well that like many other people of my age and general health, you don't consciously think of their health in every day-to-day activity. It's only really when you're unwell you start thinking about it. There's no pragmatism in keeping yourself healthy, especially sexually.
I don't use protection, such as condoms, because they irritate my skin, which is very off-putting. I don't think my decision is a very wise one. I do wish they worked for me a lot better than they do but it's what works best for my body. I get regular check ups regardless of my symptoms. I've never had an STI but I take my health and the health of others seriously.
I do use condoms on occasion but it's never really at my insistence. If somebody wanted to use one, I'd oblige. Communication is so important though, regardless of who it is. I wouldn't sleep with someone I didn't feel comfortable asking that or calling to say, "Hey, you've got chlamydia."
Although I feel if everyone got tested regularly, STIs would become a thing of the past, there's no way I'd ever advocate for check ups over having safe sex. Protection exists for a reason and a very important one at that and getting regular check ups isn't nearly as cost effective. I do feel irresponsible over the fact I'm not using them. The fact I've never had an STI just means I'm only tempting fate but, again, it's really important to do what works best for your body.
My partner and I don't use protection with each other but we do use it with other people when we have penetrative sex. Personally, in the past I generally did use protection but there have been times where I've been very drunk and didn't have access to protection. I'm the first person my partner has had unprotected sex with.
We've had instances of STIs such as syphilis in the past and that came from an instance where we had a sexual experience with an ex-partner of mine. He didn't inform us he had an STI and we didn't use protection because there was no penetrative sex—just oral and penis to penis contact. We didn't have protection nor did we feel the need to use it in that instance. I don't think I'll ever use a condom for oral sex though but it's definitely encouraged my partner and I to get tested a lot more.
Even though we're in what you'd call an "open relationship," we're still quite exclusive. If one of us were to be more open and have unprotected sex then we'd have a period of using protected sex with each other but we'd talk about it together and decide what to do then and there. Communication is vital, especially in a sexual context.
All names have changed to protect identity and interviews have been edited for clarity and length
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