Managing sexual health in a global pandemic

Managing sexual health in a global pandemic

Toilet roll and hand sanitizers are not the only items which people have been stockpiling, condoms and sex toys are also proving to be very popular purchases as people anticipate a long period of lockdown when they may have more time on their hands than usual.

Every crisis brings with it hidden traps and challenges which are not always immediately apparent as people focus on the main battle of defeating Coronavirus.  But staying in lockdown will have other implications for people. Not least is an anticipated shortage of condoms.  The run on condom purchasing hasn’t helped but the world supply is going to be limited by restrictions in Malaysia and China who are two of the world’s biggest producers and with a significantly reduced output due to Coronavirus restrictions.

What will catch people out is the change to healthcare services they experience if they encounter an STI or are looking for emergency contraception.  The NHS and its keyworkers are trying wholeheartedly to focus on Coronavirus and they have to protect frontline staff.  So it may not be as simple as it once was to get tested for an STI or buy emergency contraception.  These are the kind of hidden dangers which will catch people unaware.  Experts do predict a Coronavirus baby boom around Christmas 2020.

Looking after your health and your sexual health will reduce your need to seek medical intervention and protect you and other key medical workers at this critical time.  Here are some things to be aware of during this time of national crisis.

  • Only use condoms which have been safely stored away from heat or direct sunlight and if they are within their expiry date
  • Don’t be tempted to use something out of date or which feels a bit strange when you open the packet. Discard it even if it is your last one
  • Only use condoms from reputable suppliers which bear the BSI kitemark and CE mark. There are bound to be unregulated and unreputable suppliers keen to take advantage when worldwide stocks run low
  • Be sensible with your sexual behaviour. Online dating sites have seen a boom in traffic but you should still be observing the government’s social distancing rules and remaining at home with your household and only leaving your property for one of the four designated reasons
  • Don’t engage with new partners as STIs may not be the only thing you catch
  • Access to GP surgeries and Sexual Health Clinics are going to be much more limited. Most GPs are not allowing face to face visitors and are triaging patients on the phone.  If you suspect you have an STI or have had a condom that has broken or slipped and require emergency contraceptive cover then you should speak to your surgery by phone in the first instance and they can advise you what is possible.  You will not be allowed to visit in person and will need to follow their advice for access to testing services and the dispensing of any medication
  • Accessing clinics and healthcare professionals in this current climate carry increased risks both for you and those people you see so this is a time to take extra care with your sexual health. There are online GP services available via video link but you will need to pay for these
  • If you do need to see a healthcare professional for a blood or urine test, you will be advised how to do this. Follow the guidelines you are given otherwise you will be putting key medical workers at risk
  • Make sure you are aware of which pharmacies are still open and offer an out of hours service as many businesses have changed their hours and introduced other restrictions
  • If you have a problem at weekends, it will be much harder to see anyone and the NHS advice line, 111, is very busy with long waiting times for a call to be answered. Try and find out information online instead but only use genuine and authentic websites

The current climate we are living in is a game-changer and many people are not yet seeing the full impact until they have a health issue that is not related to Coronavirus and pick up the phone to their doctor.  The healthcare landscape has changed significantly and it is probably fair to say that access to services is not as quick and easy as previously as so many resources are being diverted to tackling the virus.  Online orders are also taking longer to be delivered.  Staying safe during Coronavirus is about protecting all of your healthcare needs which in turn will protect others.

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Stuart Brown
Doctor of Sexual Health at the NHS Royal London Hospital & Relationship Expert. Columnist at An advocate of safe sex. Avid Arsenal fan.

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