No matter the reason — a gap year, a school holiday, a sporting team trip, a work trip overseas, or a bucks and hens party—travelling abroad is an exciting adventure. It takes you away from your day to day to a place where things are sparkly and new. You may even feel the urge to throw caution to the wind. Next thing you know you’re thinking about bungee jumping, hooking-up with someone, or getting a tattoo or piercing.
In the midst of all this, there is risk. Sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and blood-borne viruses (BBVs) are more common in many countries other than Australia; and in many places, the number of people infected with HIV each year is higher too.
So how can you keep yourself safe and still have a good time? Knowing the risks and taking steps to protect yourself is key.
STIs and BBVs
STIs, like chlamydia, 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 drug injection equipment or use shared and unsterilised body piercing or tattoo equipment. HIV and hepatitis B can also be passed through sexual activities.
Often STIs and BBVs do not show symptoms. Many people don’t know they have one and you can’t tell if someone is infected by looking at them. And on that tropical island far, far away you may not have spent much time talking to the person before the start of a holiday romance.
You can find more information about STIs and BBVs here.
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 condoms with you on your travels. While condoms are available in many countries, the quality can vary. Bringing them with you guarantees you are ready in the moment.
Tattoos and piercings
Many countries do not have the strict standards that Australia does in its tattoo and piercing parlours. You are at risk for BBVs when the same needles and ink pots are used on multiple people and equipment is not properly sterilised. You should only get tattoos or piercings from licensed, trained professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 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 one here.
Alcohol and drug use
Alcohol and other drugs can affect your judgement. They may make it difficult for you to say no to sex, talk about your sexual health before sex, or use a condom during sex to prevent infections with STIs.
One more thing… many countries overseas have severe penalties for drug offences. Be sure to know what the laws are in the country you are visiting–your two week holiday could end up being two years (or more) in prison.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.
Safe and happy travels!
Enjoy yourself! Be ready! Carry a condom! And consider getting a sexual health check-up if you’re worried that you were exposed to an STI or BBV while travelling. Find your nearest testing service here.