The combination of more social events, more drinking (and/or drugs) and a festive dose of Christmas spirit can mean the holiday season can often bring a few unexpected New Year presents. Cases of STIs and HIV increase post-Christmas (and to a lesser extent other holidays too) and GU clinics and pop –up outreach testing are often busiest come January. Risky sexual behaviours are more common over Christmas and, unfortunately, this coincides with the time of the year when it is most difficult to access sexual health services and acquire condoms. For this reason the number of STIs and HIV diagnoses peak in the weeks following Christmas. Many STIs take two weeks to be detectable (NB the window period for HIV is longer – often 3 months, depending on the test) and because of this January 14th has been chosen as STIQ day.
What steps can you take to ensure that it’s not only the extra Christmas pounds you’re trying to shift come the New Year?
- Stock up on condoms before GU clinics and chemists close over Christmas. (See here for your nearest GU clinic).
- Make a plan of how you can ensure you have safe sex over the holidays, especially if you’re likely to drink or take more drugs than you normally would. E.g. putting a condom in your wallet, saying out load that you are going to use a condom before going out, alternating one drink with one glass of water, asking your friends to remind you to be safe if you meet someone.
- Remember your risk judgement is likely to be impaired if you are drinking/doing drugs and with reduced inhibitions this can increase risky behaviour – have the conversation before getting drunk/high.
- Take condoms with you on a Christmas night out, even if you aren’t expecting any ‘action’.
- If you are concerned you may have acquired an HIV/STI get tested at your local GU clinic – the sooner you test the more straightforward treatment is likely to be.
Due to the Christmas spike in HIV cases the NHS made the following video on the 12 STIs of Christmas. It is as relevant now as when it was made a few years ago. Have a look and share here . For more information and support on staying safe over Christmas and beyond please see our website which has more details of our free sexual health services for gay and bisexual men in London.