Safer Sex at Festivals: HIV and the Festivals Season

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‘Sun is shining, the weather is sweet, makes you want to move your dancing feet.’

As thousands of revellers across the UK head off to festivals up and down the country, Brigette Bard, CEO of BioSure UK, gives her advice on how to look after your sexual health while the beat goes on.

Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl, may have pulled out of Glastonbury but Florence and the Machine made up for that as far as the crowds were concerned – just don’t get me started on Kanye West’s ‘interesting’ take on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

And the party looks set to continue: from Leeds to Loch Ness and from Reading to the Isle of White, this summer there’s a music or comedy festival for every taste, whether you like rock, dance, folk or classical.

And, although the heatwave (don’t ask me what the temperature is in our office today…) means the weather for the festival season could stay hot, we’ve already had health warnings from cynics that revellers at Glasto were at risk of getting trench foot from the mud.

My advice: shove on your shorts/hotpants [delete as appropriate]; put on your wellies; slap on your sunnies; hope for the best.

While you can’t predict the weather, you can prepare for it – and the same is true about looking after your sexual health.

But when it comes to sex at festivals, hoping for the best isn’t enough to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhoea or HIV.

One in five people under the age of 30 will head off to a festival this year, with the average age at about 26. It’s clear that a more than a few of these are young, free and single and just want to mingle – in fact according to a study by MSN of 2,000 festival goers, only 45% of revellers go for the music and 25% have slept with a stranger in a festival campsite.

‘Great’ I hear you say – ‘There’s a good chance I’ll hook up on the Isle of Wight this year’. It’s true – and if you search the internet you’ll find loads of magazine articles about how to lure your dream festival fox. But if they are a stranger – or even someone you know – there’s no way you can be sure if they have HIV from how they talk or how they look. HIV can affect everyone, no matter whether they are straight or gay, young or old.

In fact, more than a quarter of people who have HIV have absolutely no clue they’ve got it. There are hardly any visible symptoms for years and while HIV is not the same as AIDS it is critical it is treated, and unless people test they won’t know if they are HIV positive.

Nowadays the treatments for HIV are amazing and have made HIV just three letters, not a sentence!

But HIV is still a long-term condition – while it’s completely manageable with treatment and most people who have HIV live normal, healthy, long lives – it still doesn’t have a cure. People who have HIV usually take anti-retroviral medication (ART) every day and are monitored by specialist healthcare professionals for the rest of their lives.

Don’t put yourself at risk of HIV infection after having a few too many drinks at a festival this summer. If you do meet someone you like, use a condom (this is the only form of contraception that can prevent the transmission of HIV). To be honest, if it’s possible, it’s usually easier to have this conversation before you actually get down to it.

And for your piece of mind, if you, a new partner, a friend are worried because of taking a risk and having unprotected sex – test for HIV to be sure. You can either go to your nearest GUM clinic for a test, or if you would prefer to take a self-test, you can order one here, and have it sent discreetly to an address of your choice within 24 hours.

It’s really easy and only takes 15 minutes to test yourself wherever and whenever you feel most comfortable. You can have a result with 99.7% accuracy while you wait. It’s worth thinking about…

Remember though, the self test is only 99.7% accurate from three months after the potential exposure. Most rapid tests used in GUM clinics have the same ‘window period’ of three months but some other professional tests, including lab tests, can detect HIV earlier.

Anyway, if you are heading off to a festival (or a garden party at your nan’s for that matter) this summer have a blast. Go wild and crazy – but be safe and be smart.

And remember when it comes to sexual health, it’s your body, your life… your choice.