No parties, no pubs, no smooching with a stranger and definitely no one night stands.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the sex lives of Australians. But while the world has been consumed with the trajectory of one kind of virus, some sexual health clinicians are quietly pleased with the mellowing out of another.
In the ACT, there was a 52 per cent reduction in the number of people testing positive to gonorrhoea in April, compared to the average of the past five years.
And, following a national trend, there was a 34 per cent decrease in the recorded cases of chlamydia.
Although we do not have a full picture of the data yet, experts say the pandemic could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive down the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“Nationally, that data won’t be available for quite some time,” Canberra Sexual Health Centre director Sarah Martin said.
“I think we’ve had an opportunity to slow down.”
Dr Martin’s clinic, along with many others, have changed the way they do regular sexual health check-ups during COVID-19.
Patients have been asked to phone ahead for an initial assessment, and only those considered high risk have had face-to-face appointments.
That might be skewing the data — with fewer people to test, the lab could be returning different results. But Dr Martin said it was likely at least some of the reduction in cases was because of what was effectively an enforced period of celibacy.
Now is the chance to break the chain of infection
Dr Martin said she was aware that a lot of people were keen to get their sex lives back on track once coronavirus restrictions eased further.
That is why she is urging people to get their STI tests now, even if they have no symptoms.
“Some people might not feel they need testing now. Others might have decided to delay testing for a while. And others again, might have found it more difficult to access testing than usual,” Dr Martin said.
“[But] now it’s an opportunity to think through how to stay safe.”
ACT Labor politician Tara Cheyne agreed with Dr Martin, and said getting tested was a no brainer.
Last year Ms Cheyne told the ACT Legislative Assembly that she contracted chlamydia at age 21, in a speech calling for action to reduce the stigma around sexually transmitted diseases.
“It was incredibly straightforward, it wasn’t a big deal,” Ms Cheyne said.
Ms Cheyne also agreed that there is no better time to get tested than now.
“I think there’s probably something almost a little bit sexy in itself about being confident in your own mind and of your own health, that you are STI free,” she added.
“For many STIs the treatments are very simple. It can be as simple as taking one or two tablets and waiting a week.”
Dating could forever be different
The return to what has been dubbed ‘regency-era courtship’ by those in the dating game has led to many a meme, and many first dates have been conducted via video chat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sexologist Kym Robinson said that, while she was not sure all her single clients had been following the strict physical distancing restrictions, she was hopeful the focus COVID-19 placed on infectious diseases would transfer to safe sex practices and prevention of STIs.
“We’re talking a lot more about social distancing and ways of protecting ourselves like hand washing. I’m hoping that people are going to put a little bit more thought into safer sex practices,” Mrs Robinson said.
While it might be anxiety inducing to have safe-sex conversations with potential partners in a post-shutdown world, Mrs Robinson said it is better than the alternative.
“If you don’t get checked, those are actually more tricky conversations,” she said.
“Imagine how much more difficult it’ll be later, when you say we need to use a condom because I have something that I don’t want you to catch.”