We're not moosing around when it comes to being safe and healthy this holiday season.
As the holiday season hots up and we head off for a well-earned break before heading into a new year, we have few tips on staying sexually and emotionally healthy.
For many people the holiday season is a time for socialising, spending time with partners and maybe even meeting someone new under the mistletoe or on a dance floor. :-) Sadly though it can also be a time for increased issues around our sexual health, consent, and mental health. Below you'll find a few things that will make you safer, plus you'll also know what to do in case things don't go to plan.
Avoiding holiday STIs
Holidays often equal more fun and that's why Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) rates usually increase over the festive season. There is of course the perfect solution — used correctly, condoms are still the best way to protect against STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancy.
Condoms are available for free from the Canberra Sexual Health Centre at Woden Hospital and the AIDS Action Council in Braddon. You can also buy them online, in supermarkets, pharmacies. (Oh and remember to check your condoms are not out of date). Have them at home and take them out with you if you are sexually active. If you experience condom failure, have unprotected sex or think you may have been exposed to an STI or HIV get tested ASAP. Tests are quick and easy and all services are confidential and open to all genders and sexualities.
With more time to engage in social activities and intimacy with others, pregnancy rates also increase over the holiday periods. If it's not your intention to become pregnant emergency contraception is available. Emergency contraception (EC) reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. It can also be used when contraception may have failed, eg broken condom, missed pill and after sexual assault.
Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol often plays a large part in our holiday celebrations and parties. Remember drinking (and drugs) can cause problems with your health, the ability to make considered decisions. You may also forget to take important medication for things like contraception, HIV, mental health, etc. Drinking can also cloud our judgement and increase the likelihood of arguments, violence, consent issues, or safe sex.
If you are drinking, try to pace yourself with alcohol, alternate with water and juice and organise with friends to look out for each other so you stay safe while you are out and traveling home. Hopefully, you’ll have a great time over the holidays. But if you experience sexual assault or rape you can get help from the police or the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre.
NO means NO and it's important to remember if someone is under the influence of alcohol they can't actually give consent.
How can you support someone?
- For people with depression or anxiety disorders or any other mental health problem, the pressures at the end of year and changes to their usual routine can bring about a worsening or relapse. If you can make yourself available to be a support, reach out and make the offer.
- With parties and other social events, it can be hard for those with alcohol or other drug use problems to keep on track. If you are having a party of your own, think about making it an alcohol-free event. If this doesn’t suit you, make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available. There are non-alcoholic options that you can have on hand that still have a festive spirit.
- For people with eating disorders, and those who are in recovery, the sheer amount and variety of food which is often present at Christmas events can be very difficult to cope with. Try not to comment on what the person does or doesn’t eat and try to focus on conversations that aren’t about food, weight or body shape. While food is often a focus this time of year, try to find other ways to spend time with people, and create other family rituals for the future.
- If you know someone who is struggling with mental ill health that will be alone during the holiday season, think about inviting them to join you on the day. If you're unable to invite them, see if you can organise another time to visit the person.
- The end of the year can also be a real struggle for someone who has experienced grief or loss in the last year. They may appreciate your efforts to include them, even if they don't feel up to spending the day with others.
If you’re not sure of what to say or how to help someone, services such as Lifeline 13 11 14 can provide advice and guidance on how to help.
You may also find that if you’ve been giving support to someone that you start to feel overwhelmed. Make time to take care of yourself, even if it’s just to spend some time on your own, go for a walk or read a book. It’s important to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.
Everyone at SHFPACT wishes you a happy and safe festive season and fulfilling start to the New Year.