You’re out the door; next stop Bali or Thailand or Fiji! An exciting adventure is the only thing on your calendar and you’re ready for some sun & fun with your mates. You’re up for anything: partying, hook-ups, or maybe even getting a tattoo or piercing. You’ll see where the moment takes you.
With the swirl of excitement surrounding your upcoming trip, you may not be thinking much about the risks (even though your parents are). Something to consider is the potential risk of getting a sexually transmissible infection (STI) or blood-borne virus (BBV). Did you know that they are more common in many countries overseas than in Australia; and in many places, the number of people infected with HIV each year is higher too?
So how can you enjoy this time and keep yourself safe? Really, it’s all about knowing the risks that are out there and taking steps to protect yourself.
What you need to know
STIs can be passed on during sexual activities (oral, vaginal, and anal) that involve direct skin-to-skin contact or the exchange of bodily fluids like semen or vaginal fluids. BBVs, like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, are transmitted from one person to another through blood-to-blood contact. This can happen when you share or use unsterilised body piercing or tattoo equipment, as well as drug injecting equipment. You can find more information about STIs and BBVs here.
STIs and BBVs very often have no symptoms, which means that people don’t always know they have one and there is no way to tell just by looking at a person. So what can you do?
Condoms, condoms, condoms
Condoms offer the best protection against STIs. Always use a condom when having anal or vaginal sex. Condoms and dams can also be used during oral sex.
Plan ahead and bring some condoms with you. While condoms are available in many countries, the quality can vary. You’ll be ready if the occasion arises and bringing them with you guarantees quality.
Tattoos and piercings, the sticking points
Australia has strict standards for its tattoo and piercing parlours. Many countries do not have those same standards. When the same needles and ink pots are used on multiple people and equipment is not properly sterilised, there is a risk of getting a BBV. Only get tattoos or piercings from licensed, trained professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the use of gloves, new needles and ink pots, and the sterilisation of equipment. Even if you do use a professional overseas, get tested for hepatitis C and other BBVs three months after getting the tattoo or piercing. Check out where you can get tested here.
Where’s the party? Alcohol and drug use
It’s a party, there’s probably going to be alcohol and maybe other drugs. As you know, alcohol and other drugs can affect your judgement. This can impact your health and safety. It may make it difficult for you to say no or take steps to prevent STIs and BBVs.
You are more likely to get a BBV if you share injecting drug equipment. If you do inject drugs, always use a new syringe and never share any drug injecting equipment, including spoons and water.
One more thing many countries have severe penalties for drug offences. Know what the laws are in the country you are visiting or your two week holiday could end up being two years (or more) in prison.
Safe and happy travels!
√ Have fun!
√ Carry a condom
√ Get sexual health check-up when you get home if you’re worried
that you were exposed to an STI or BBV while travelling.
√ Enjoy yourself!