Have you had the SHAG yet?

By Róisín Treacy

Nobody can deny that sex is everywhere. Tabloids thrive on exposing political scandals involving it, an entire industry – however legal or illegal it might be – runs on it, films are rarely seen without it. Even in DCU it has been difficult to avoid the subject in the past week, as SU members ran around campus dressed as sperm in aid of SHAG week.

Yet, how much do we really know about sex? Many myths surround sex, but is there any truth behind them or are they simply misinterpretations made by uneducated people?

Some of the more common myths include the belief that women cannot get pregnant if the man pulls out before he comes, if it is the first time she has had sex, or if she is on top. All of these myths are entirely false, as women can get pregnant in any of these circumstances.

Today there are several different contraceptive options available to people who wish to have safe sex. Despite the variety of options for preventing pregnancy, condoms are the only contraception that is considered to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However it is important to remember that condoms do not protect from every kind of STI.

Male condoms are 85 per cent to 98 per cent effective as a form of contraception, depending on how carefully they are used. There have been no large studies on the reliability of the female condom, but research suggests they are just as effective as the male condom.

The contraceptive pill is one of the most commonly used methods of contraception. The hormone progestogen causes changes in a woman’s body that make it difficult for sperm to enter the womb. In some women, it prevents ovulation. It must be taken at the same time every day to prevent pregnancy. With proper use the contraceptive pill is 99 per cent effective. With less careful use, it is 96 per cent effective.

The contraceptive patch is a thin brown patch that is placed on the skin once a week for three weeks every month. It contains the hormones oestrogen and progestogen, which prevent a woman from ovulating.

The injectable contraceptive releases the hormone progestogen very slowly into the body and stops ovulation. Each injection lasts three months. Less than one woman in every hundred will get pregnant in a year when using the injection.

The contraceptive implant, also called the bar, is a small plastic bar that is inserted into the inner part of the upper arm. It releases progestogen into the body stopping ovulation, and lasts for three years. During trials of the bar, no pregnancies were reported.

If you have had unprotected sex, emergency contraception is an option. The morning-after pill can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. However, it is most effective if it is taken as soon as possible after sex. The morning-after pill does not protect against STIs.

Until February of last year, emergency contraception was only available by prescription from a doctor or at a sexual health (family planning) clinic. Now the morning after pill can be sold over the counter by a pharmacist. A recent study reported that 5 per cent of 18 to 25 year olds had used the morning-after pill as emergency contraception in the past year.

SHAG Week, which stands for Sexual Health and Guidance Week, aims to raise awareness about matters of sexual health, including sexually transmitted infections. STIs are infections that are passed on from an infected partner during unprotected sex. They are caused by specific bacteria and viruses.

STIs can be transmitted without having sex as kissing and touching can also transfer the bacteria that cause them. Contact with body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids and blood can also transfer STIs. Examples of STIs include Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Genital Warts, Herpes and Syphilis.

Young people aged between 20 and 29 have the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections according to thinkcontraception.ie. In the space of ten years, there has been a 700 per cent increase in cases of Chlamydia in Ireland. At least 70 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men with Chlamydia have no symptoms. Abstinence is the only contraception that offers 100 per cent protection from STIs.

Regular sexual health check-ups are important to help ensure that you are not carrying an STI. An STI screening is free at any STI or GUM clinic. These clinics are completely confidential and there is no need to be referred by your doctor. A screening usually includes blood tests and swabs.

According to yoursexualhealth.ie, you should have an STI screening if you are sexually active and have not had a check-up before, if you have had unprotected oral sex or sex with one or more partners, and if your partner has had unprotected sex with someone other than you. The website warns of how important it is to remember that some STIs do not have visible symptoms so you will not always know if you need a check-up.

SU Welfare Officer Collie Ollie explains the aim of SHAG week, “SHAG week is about getting students talking about sex, most importantly stressing the importance of safe sex. When students enter DCU they are young and impressionable and beginning to become sexually active. It is our job as a union to help guide them in stressing the importance of safe sex. SHAG week aims to open people’s eyes to the dangers of unprotected sex including visual examples of STDs.”

DCU SHAG week saw a number of events around campus to promote sexual health awareness. These included the SHAG quiz and Rodeo Willy, which took place in NuBar and the Venue on Tuesday. The Durex Magician also made an appearance in the Venue on Wednesday night.

On Monday there was a SHAG information stand in the Hub with demonstrations and exhibits with Aids Alliance and the DCU Health Service. The SU were also giving out SHAG Packs and asking DCU students to complete a survey on sexual health.

SHAG week gives all students an opportunity to brush up on their knowledge of sexual health and get answers to the questions that they are often far too embarrassed to ask.


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