(Credit: Thomas Wood/Netflix)
With a new series of Sex Education on our screens, e-Surgery feels it’s time to create the ultimate guide to everything sexual health. The hit TV series follows a group of teenagers in their final school year as they enter the world of sexual intimacy. We know the show is a light-hearted comedy-drama, but the purpose of the show is more important than most people realise.
Growing up in the world today, the younger generations are exposed to a world in technological transition. Discovering who you are and what sex is used to be a coming-of-age experience and would often come from natural experiences with romantic interests. Nowadays, with the accessibility and abundance of adult material online, the lessons that previous generations learnt organically are now being pushed aside and replaced with extreme material that used to reside in the depths of one’s own mind.
The importance of a new series of Sex Education is huge to younger people, as it is the stories of characters that they can relate to!
We’re going to delve into the major areas of sex that we feel are the most important areas to better understand, so that when we cross paths with some of these conditions or situations, we know the best way to respond. Keeping the health and wellbeing of us and our sexual partners safe, so that you can fully enjoy the pleasure and intimacy the world of sex can bring!
So where should we start?
Well, there’s no better place to start than with the most vital piece of information everyone needs to understand when it comes to sex. Consent.
1 in 4 women and 1 in 18 men in the UK have experienced sexual assault and the effects of this can be extremely damaging. It not only harms someone physically but the trauma suffered from the experience can lead to mental health issues in the long term, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.
Any form of sexual activity with someone requires consent from everyone involved. This is non-negotiable. Just so we’re clear!
When worn correctly, condoms can reduce your chances of getting pregnant by 98%, they can also help reduce the chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Practicing safe sex should be the norm, especially among younger people. Looking out for each other’s well being is important as it shows a respect for our sexual partners.
The creation of modern contraceptives has transformed what sex means for a lot of people, most significantly for women. The ability to enjoy sex without the fear of the life changing event of becoming a parent allows people to connect with others more freely. We’re hoping to see more discussions about the various types of contraception in the new series of Sex Education.
The main forms of contraception are:
The most common and easily accessible contraceptive, a condom is a lubricated latex sleeve that goes over the penis to prevent the semen from releasing into the vagina during sex.
An IUD is a tiny, T-shaped plastic and copper implant that is placed in the uterus. The sperm and egg cannot survive in the womb or fallopian tubes because of the IUD.
A form of hormonal birth control applied to the skin, the patch injects a mixture of synthetic hormones into the bloodstream, usually oestrogen and progestin. The hormones work to inhibit ovulation, thicken cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to reach the egg, and thin the uterine lining to prevent implantation.
The ring is a small plastic ring that is placed into the vagina, and usually lasts up to one month. It works by releasing oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream which helps to prevent the body producing an egg every month. It also makes the cervical mucus thicker making it harder for the sperm to get through the cervix.
The Depo-Provera shot is administered every three months by a healthcare professional, it contains progestin to prevent pregnancy. It works by inhibiting ovulation and altering cervical mucus.
The implant is an under-the-skin rod-shaped contraceptive implant that releases progestin to prevent pregnancy. It prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus for up to three years. For both insertion and removal, consultation with a healthcare professional is necessary, this would most likely be your GP.
While it’s not the most effective way of preventing pregnancy, tracking your menstrual cycle can help you to understand the best times of the month to have unprotected sex if you prefer to not use medications or protection.
Now, this form of contraceptive requires high level control and skill from the man… It’s the most natural method that doesn’t involve any medication or treatments, but it is a risky move. ‘Pulling out’ requires the man to remove his penis from the vagina before climax, and when in the moment is very hard to remember to do for everyone involved (hence the ‘high level control and skill’) due to the intense feelings during the build-up to orgasm. Plus, it’s hard wired into us to not want to pull out as it’s literally the way we reproduce and survive!
Classed as an emergency contraception, the morning after pill typically comes in two types, Levonelle and ellaOne. Both pills must be taken within the first few days of having unprotected sex for them to work. This form of contraception is helpful for those who forget to use protection.
This form of contraception is semi-permanent or permanent and can be done for both men and women. For women the process is named a tubal sterilisation and for men it’s a vasectomy. While it’s usually possible for the tubes to be untied, there is no guarantee that you will become fertile again.
Pregnancy tests are sold in virtually every supermarket and pharmacy across the UK, which means that if you believe there is a chance you may be pregnant, finding out if you are is easily accessible. It’s important you find out as soon as possible, even if you are not showing signs of pregnancy, as contraception methods are not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Like with anything that’s fun, there are risks involved with having sex. Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs for short, are common occurrences in people that do not practice safe sex regularly or do not maintain good hygiene practices. Lots of people don’t like to confront the reality of STDs, as people associate having them with feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment. It’s important that people start to normalise discussions about sex and especially STDs, as there can be serious consequences if some types of STDs are left untreated.
Let’s look at the 10 most common sexually transmitted diseases:
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases and is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. If left untreated, can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and other major health problems. Treatment is only possible with testing and antibiotics, and testing must be done by a registered organisation. For those who are sexually active, safe sex practices and routine screenings are essential for preventing the disease.
Also known as ‘the clap’, Gonorrhea is caused by a bacteria called neisseria gonorrhea. The infection can be found in discharge from both the vagina and penis, so when people have intercourse, they are likely to spread the infection if they have it. Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, but if it’s left untreated it can lead to various health complications that could become life threatening.
Herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2)
The herpes virus can be divided into two types, HSV-1 and HSV-2. The HSV-1 virus causes oral herpes which is known to cause cold sores around the mouth, lips and inside of the mouth. The HSV-2 virus on the other hand causes sores and blisters in the genital region. Both can be transferred by touching the sores directly or through kissing and sexual intercourse. There are methods of treating herpes, which can help reduce the symptoms. But it’s important to know that genital herpes cannot be cured.
Syphilis is one of the more serious types of STD, as if it’s left untreated it can lead to serious health complications that could be life-threatening. The symptoms can vary, and they can also come and go over time, even though the virus is still in your body. If the condition is found early, it can be relatively straight forward to treat with antibiotics such as penicillin.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s natural immune system. It’s estimated that around 39 million people worldwide that are living with the virus. The virus can be spread through unprotected sex, sharing needles, breastfeeding and even giving birth. Symptoms usually start as flu-like symptoms, but it can then lay dormant for a long period of time. As time goes on it will then weaken the immune system gradually which will result in more serious health problems such as infections or diseases that can damage your health. HIV isn’t curable but there are medications you can take to help manage the virus, making life as healthy and normal as possible.
One of the lesser-known types of STD, trichomoniasis is caused by an incredibly small parasite. Symptoms for women include unusual discharge from the vagina and soreness and swelling. For men, they can experience pain when peeing or discharge from the penis. It’s common for people to get trichomoniasis and not show any symptoms. Luckily antibiotics are effective at clearing the infection. These can be prescribed to you by your GP or pharmacist.
This is one of the least pleasant types of STD’s, mainly because it’s like having nits but in your private areas. Lice can be passed over from one person to another during sex. They can be itchy, leave white eggs in your pubic hair and bite the skin which can leave red spots or bite marks. There are creams that can be prescribed that kill the lice, but it’s likely you would need to have multiple appointments with a GP or pharmacist to ensure they have been cleared fully.
Getting tested regularly is important, especially if you are sexually active or have multiple sexual partners. Testing ensures that you are in good health, can treat infections early and can reduce the chances of it spreading to others. Getting a STI test can be a daunting experience but remember that it’s not something to feel embarrassed about as it’s very common. It’s the safest thing to do for both you and your sexual partners wellbeing.
In the UK it is a criminal act to intentionally give someone an STD and can be classified as sexual assault, so if you receive a positive test result you should inform your recent sexual partners and not be sexually active until you have treated the condition and have been given the all clear.
Also known as a yeast infection, thrush is a fungal infection that affects the vagina in women and the penis in men. The infection is caused by a growth in a fungus called Candida. It is not classed as a sexually transmitted disease, but it can be transferred through sex, so if you have thrush make sure you aren’t having sex as it could pass on or worsen the condition.
The main symptoms of thrush are irritation, itchiness and a strong burning sensation. Thrush can also cause discharge to occur from the penis or vagina, which can be unsettling for the person experiencing it.
Thrush is usually not a serious condition but can cause significant discomfort, treatment can be bought over the counter or through an online pharmacy. The most common treatment is Fluconazole, which is taken in tablet form, as well as other creams that kill of the fungus.
If the condition is more severe, you should consult your GP or pharmacist in person so they can check over your symptoms and provide appropriate medication if needed.
Now, this section is mainly for the men…
One of the biggest stigmas for men, especially for young adults, if the fear of ‘not lasting long.’ The medical term for this very frustrating experience is premature ejaculation. This theme comes up in the new series of Sex Education and has already been shown in the show before.
Around 20-30% of sexually active men experience premature ejaculation, which is obviously not ideal as it can affect their sex life and relationships massively. Luckily there are ways you can help prevent releasing to early, both naturally and through certain medications.
A lot of the reasons for premature ejaculation for younger men is a mental issue, this can be related to stress, anxiety or depression. If you are not in a good mental state, then performing well can be much harder to do. Some forms of therapy or counselling can help understand some of the underlying psychological blocks that might be playing a role.
Often the fear of either losing an erection during sex can play a part, as it becomes rushed. So, communicating openly with your partner can help overcome issues you might be facing.
There are medications such as Priligy that can help men last up to 3x longer in the bedroom, which in turn is a benefit to women not just men. The tablet contains a drug called Apoxetine which acts as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.
The other worst nightmare under the sheets for men is not being able to get it up or keep it up! This is another likely condition that will occur in the new series of Sex Education due to it being one of the most common things to happen to a man during sex.
Erectile dysfunction can be caused by a wide range of things, including physical health and fitness, as well as our mental health. Having ED can be troubling for lots of men and for their partners too as people can become stressed. It may leave them unsatisfied or even questioning if their partner finds them attractive. Having a conversation about the situation is always the best way to try to overcome any psychosocial hurdles in the relationship.
There are lots of medications that can help keep and maintain an erection. These can be purchased from your local pharmacy as well as from online pharmacies like e-Surgery. The common medications are Sildenafil and Tadalafil
If you are concerned about your sexual health in any way, then please do make use of e-Surgery’s free to use ‘Ask a Pharmacist’ service which puts you in direct conversation with one of our pharmacy team. We know that issues around our sexual health can be something that feels embarrassing, but the treatments of sexual conditions are what we do.
We’ve also included some links to resources you might find helpful:
Visiting Sexual Health Clinics | https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/visiting-an-sti-clinic/
Doing a Pregnancy Test | https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/trying-for-a-baby/doing-a-pregnancy-test/
Sexwise Resources | https://www.sexwise.org.uk/resources
Having Sex for the First Time | https://hello.brook.org.uk/having-sex