Friday 20 July 2018

'I spoke to a 16-year-old girl who had had 12 sexual partners' - Dr Ciara Kelly on teenage casual sex

Photo posed
Photo posed

First up, I don't believe that there's anything shameful about enjoying your sex life to the full. I actually believe that moralising or passing judgment about sex is pointless and probably damaging. It's very clear to me that sex is a drive that's part of human nature in the same way hunger or thirst are and trying to change, suppress or subvert that can do more harm than good. So I'm a great believer in consenting adults doing whatever the hell they feel like in the bedroom.

Having said that sex can cause problems. Sex can lead to unplanned pregnancies for a start - with all the ensuing fallout that brings. Equally, sex can result in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) being contracted. And these can range from relatively mild right the way up to potentially serious infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis, HIV and HPV. These latter infections can result in significant health issues and in HPV's case - can cause cancer. So there's a lot to be said for safe sex, in terms of your health.

Obviously for those wishing to avoid pregnancy - good contraception such as the pill or a long acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) like an IUD or an injectable significantly reduce the risk. In terms of reducing the risk of STIs, condoms are obviously the way to go. One thing I've noticed though - over many years of discussing sex with patients - is the fact that lots of people use condoms in the initial phase of a relationship then often stop as they become emotionally closer. But caring about somebody is no barrier to infection! So I'd advise anybody in a new relationship before they stop using condoms to get themselves and their partner screened for STIs. That way you know you won't catch anything if you stop using protection.

Lots of people don't like condoms often due to a decrease in sensation or some discomfort for the man. But that could be because they're wearing the wrong size condom. Few enough men ever size themselves accurately and many men are unaware that condoms come in different sizes. So if you're someone who dislikes wearing condoms it may just be that you haven't found the right one for you.

But the other area where sex can cause problems is emotionally. And I say that in no way to try and add to the idea that casual sex is always a disaster or to perpetuate the myth that men are never emotionally invested in sex whereas women always are! I've seen many situations over the years where the woman is looking for no strings and the man is very hurt by that. But the reality is - irrespective of who feels what - when two people have sex they may not view that encounter in the same way and there's great potential for somebody to get hurt in that situation and that can be all the more true for young people.

It's now entirely normal for adolescents and young adults in Ireland to have sex outside of a romantic relationship. And difficulty arises when one of them views that sex as a prelude to a relationship and the other one doesn't. Sex at its most basic is a way of physically communicating with somebody. I'd suggest that it should occur in tandem with verbal communication so that everyone is on the same page when it happens. I recall talking to a 16-year-old girl once who had had 12 sexual partners and wasn't happy that none of those encounters had led to a relationship. It's easy to blame the lads in these cases, however there was no suggestion the sex was not consensual. That girl was hoping that by having sex she would get boys to like her but that's not how it worked out.

I'd advise anybody about to have casual sex with somebody, to be entirely sure that that's what they want. If it is, great. But if it isn't really - then don't do it. And if you're having sex in the hope that it will lead somewhere else perhaps a conversation might be a better way to find that out. Just because we've moved beyond an era when sex outside relationships was frowned upon, doesn't mean people don't get their hearts broken. Taking things slowly and protecting yourself in all the ways is still a good idea.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk, weekdays 12-2.

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