Sexual health expert warns parents of STI spike at Schoolies
As well as many teens nursing a sore head, there are parents sitting at home nervous as hell, hoping that their child is making the right choices at an annual get-together that is notorious for newsworthy shenanigans.
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Health expert’s message to Schoolies parents
Speaking to Kidspot, Dr Benson Riddle from Stigma Health, has issued a blunt warning to parents who have children heading off to celebrate the end of their schooling years.
“Schoolies is a time of exciting celebrations but it’s also a time where your kids are exposed to a whole group of new people and experiences – often coinciding with their first time holidaying away from home without the safety net of their family and community,” he says.
“Whether it’s a domestic trip or an international one, having social safety conversations are important to ensure they’re best equipped to take on this wider world,” he adds.
An important part of that conversation involves talking honestly about sex before those bags are packed, with Dr Riddle urging parents not to turn a blind eye to the topic.
“Remind them about consent conversations and don’t be afraid to have the safe sex talk,” he insists.
An expected hike in STI cases
According to Dr Riddle, data released this month from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) showed a significant spike in STI infections between 2021 to 2023, specifically a 45 per cent increase in gonorrhoea and a 24 per cent increase in confirmed cases of chlamydia.
Young people between 15 to 29 years made up the majority of these numbers, serving as a harsh reminder for children to be safe when it comes to intimacy.
With the statistics in mind, Dr Riddle claims it is more important than ever to have the conversation about testing with the teens heading off for some fun.
“Given we also see an increase around Schoolies and festival season, this year it’s of even more concern with the already elevated number of cases,” he says.
Encourage your teens to get tested before AND after Schoolies celebrations
The asymptomatic nature of most STIs means they can spread from person to person unknowingly creating an exponential multiplying factor.
It’s for this reason, Dr Riddle is encouraging all parents to get their children tested before they head off to Schoolies as well as when they return.
“We know that many young Australians are living sex positive lives. We want to make sure that they’re doing it safely and making responsible decisions together with their sexual partners,” he says.
“If they’ve already been sexually active I’d encourage you to speak with them about getting an STI test before heading off and most certainly having one on their return. It’s all part of being a responsible adult who is engaging in adult things.”
How can parents help?
Of course for many families, talking about sex with their teens doesn’t come so easily, but by normalising the subject and addressing the matter in a calm and factual way, parents can minimise the embarrassment and ensure their teens don’t run away.
“Ensure they have – or have access to – a supply of condoms, as these are the most effective way of preventing STIs,” Dr Riddle encourages, while also adding that young women should also talk to their GP about contraception without relying solely on condoms for protection against unwanted pregnancy.
Downloading the Stigma Health app is also a convenient way to keep on top of sexual health, without the teen feeling embarrassed.
“We have really tackled much of this head-on by offering telehealth consults and we also have a bulk-billing option available for those suitable,” Dr Riddle shares.
“The app makes it even more accessible and keeps it top of mind when it’s sitting on the one item that teens don’t leave home without – their mobile phone.
“Education is still a really important part of changing perceptions of STI risks in the community so more conversations like this are critical and the rise in cases has been partly attributed to the lack of it during the pandemic as well as people not visiting their GP.”