Practice safe sex this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of the most romantic – or at least sexual – days of the year, with the majority of men and women expecting to have sex. Doing so responsibly could reduce the consequences of HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies, warns HIV management organisation CareWorks ahead of the big day.

Rachael Rawlinson, the Prevention Programme Manager at CareWorks, says Valentine’s Day is synonymous with intimacy and is the one time of the year that the pressure is really on to have sex.

Valentine’s Day sex can often be risky, since it tends to be spontaneous and most don’t want to ruin the moment by having to fumble around for a condom. It doesn’t matter how healthy and fit you are, if you have unprotected sex and are not using any form of contraception, you not only run the risk of falling pregnant, but you can also contract STIs or  HIV.

“It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you, but it can. Each year, more than 400,000 new HIV infections are reported in SA alone.

“The month of February sees Valentine’s Day being celebrated, but it is also Reproductive Health Month and includes Condom and STI Week. That’s why this discussion is timely – men should show their love for their partners by being responsible, which includes using protection against HIV and other STIs by practicing correct and consistent condom use, as well as men undergoing Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC),” says Rawlinson.

The once-off, 20-minute procedure reduces a man’s lifetime risk of HIV by up to 60% and it helps to prevent other STIs. VMMC also lowers the risk of penile cancer and reduces the chance of acquiring the human papilloma virus (HPV) and, as a result, cervical cancer among the female partners of circumcised males.

Ongoing research in South Africa has shown lower HIV infection rates among circumcised men than uncircumcised men. Models also suggest that VMMC scale-up could reduce HIV incidence in the country by roughly 30 to 50% over the next decade.

“It has also been shown that for many women, sex with a circumcised man lasts longer and offers more pleasure,” she continues.

Rawlinson says being uninformed can result in crisis situations that may alter the trajectory of a person’s life.

“It’s important to remember that we never reach an age when we’re not at risk of HIV or a sexually transmitted disease. Even when you’ve been seeing each other for a while, you may still not be risk-free, since HIV and many STIs have no initial noticeable symptoms and can lie undetected for a long time. Continuous condom use and Medical Male Circumcision helps to protect your health and well-being – no matter how old you are or what relationship stage you find yourself in. Thus, having accurate and up-to-date information of how to protect yourself (and your partner) is essential if you are already sexually active.

“Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to jump-start your relationship and get closer to the one you love, but remember to do so responsibly,” she cautions.

To find out more information or where you, your son, friend or partner can undergo free VMMC, send a free ‘please call me’ to 0606-800-800 and a counsellor will get back to you.

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Brigitte Taim

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