Have we fallen out of love with safe sex?

Hayley* was enjoying a typical post-break-up night out when she bumped into a guy she’d known at secondary school. She hadn’t seen Aaron*, who’d been away in the army, for years but soon they were chatting like no time had passed. Catching up with an old friend was just the distraction she’d been hoping for and, as the night went on, the conversation quickly turned flirty – and they ended up going home together.

“I was probably being a bit immature but I’d known this lad since I was in high school,” the 24-year-old tells me. “We were drunk and I guess I thought because it wasn’t a stranger that it would be fine not to use a condom and, obviously, it wasn’t – and then I started to get chlamydia symptoms.”

After being diagnosed with the STI, Hayley beat herself up over not having raised the subject of protection with her hook-up. “I was really frustrated at myself,” she recalls. “I was saying to myself, ‘You’re stupid, why do you trust people? You need to start growing up.’” But frustration turned to disbelief when she found out from a mutual friend that the guy had apparently been complaining about STI symptoms before their encounter. “That means he recklessly went out sleeping with people unprotected anyway,” she says.

During the time when Hayley was having casual sex before meeting her current partner, she was on the pill but didn’t use condoms more than a “handful of times”. She says this was partly because they caused her discomfort but also because she felt awkward bringing it up.

“At the time, I foolishly thought ‘I don’t want them to think I’m a prude or that I’m boring,’” she says. “I’m actually really anxious about STIs but I wasn’t confident enough to bring it up – I had this thing in my head of wanting to please men.”

For Hayley, getting an STI that, if untreated, could have affected her fertility, was a wake-up call: “I didn’t see it that way but, by not using one, you’re really trusting somebody and you shouldn’t do that so easily.”

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