So, the UK's sexual health is getting worse. According to figures released yesterday, syphilis is on the increase 10 years after it was almost eradicated, with a 23% increase in 2004-2005, 39% 2003-2004. This is the storywww.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,,1812907,00.html>.
That's just an extension of a problem that has existed since the mid 90s. Between 1996 and 2002, according to the same body (The Health Protection Agency) syphilis rates in British men went up by 960% and in the West Midlands by 4,800%. God knows what they were doing in Brum.
It's mostly those old baddies "gay and bisexual men" who are contracting syphilis and, apparently, 60% of all new diagnoses of syphilis were in men who are HIV positive. This isn’t in the Guardian story, but is reported here www.aidsalliance.org/sw5207.asp?page=1>.
Now the girls are getting in on the act. The increase of syphilis in women last year was 2.5 times that of men and many of these women are "suspected of 'swinging'"! Or maybe not, but the HPA says they are mature women, not prostitutes, who are part of "particular social circles". Statistics - oh, you look it up! - show that young women are having more sexual partners so it's not a huge leap to imagine that mature women might well be at it too.
So what lies behind this increase in syphilis? Of course, this is a complex issue, one with many causes and effects. The restriction in the hours of many clap clinics, for one. And the fact that, unlike queer people of my generation, young gay/bi men haven't seen their peers die, horribly, in their thousands. Or, indeed, been to parts of the developing world where people are doing that right now. Syphilis and HIV differ in many ways, of course, but they are both spread by unsafe sex. And that's what more and more people in Britain are practising now.
You know what to do
Of course, there's a simple solution. Every time you have penis-penetrating-anything sex, especially with someone who isn't your regular partner, use a condom. Use a condom and, again... use a condom. And given that syphilis can be acquired by oral sex. Well, you do the math. OK, so sometimes people carried away by the moment and forget or stop caring. If you are infected by someone who swears they are true to you and always have been, then that is a horrific breach of trust. And asking all people, even monogamous ones, to use condoms all the time is unrealistic and not something that the NHS seems to be doing.
But if you horny people who have sex with multiple partners actually used condoms regularly when you shagged, instead of thinking that infection wouldn't happen to you, or condoms take away the sensation, or that you choose your partners carefully and never go with anyone who "looks gay" - all of which have actually been said to me by people, male and female, with straight faces (pun intended) - then rates of sexually transmitted infections would go right down. And you wouldn't even have to give up your fun.
The L Word
On a lighter note, the third season of The L Word is starting soon in the UK... Living TV, July 19th, 10pm. A little bird - actually, a medium-sized one - told me she has seen most of it at London's lesbian club Southtopia and this time the storylines are pretty heart-rending. I wonder if Season One's bisexuals (or at any rate, their bisexuality) will stage a come-back?