Sexually transmitted infections on rise among young people in Eastern Townships

The Eastern Townships public health authority has launched "Choose Yours," a campaign to combat rising rates of sexually transmitted infections among young people in the region.

Public health agency reports 130% increase in STIs in region over past decade

Ribbed, flavoured, extra-large: the public health campaign 'Choose Yours' hopes to get young people comfortable with condoms by highlighting how many options there are. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

The Eastern Townships public health authority has launched a new campaign to combat rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young people.

The agency says between 2006 and 2015, officials saw STIs increase by nearly 130 per cent in among people aged 15 to 24.

"There are still lots of people not protecting themselves," said Dr. Geneviève Petit, a community health specialist and public health consultant with the CIUSSS de l'Estrie-CHUS.

Petit acknowledged part of that increase might be attributable more people being screened for STIs.

"We do get some people that were not aware that they were infected, but we now see them," she said. "That's the little part that is positive."

Spreading word about condoms

The public health agency has launched a campaign called "Choose Yours," focused on helping young people become comfortable with using condoms and making sure they know where to go to get them.

"There's a shyness related to buying a condom," said Petit.

The regional public health agency has created an interactive map online that shows young people where they can obtain condoms for free or at a low cost.  

'I don't think they're very well-informed'

‘We usually like to meet with a lot of the first-year students and a lot of the residence community as well,’ said Kendra Brock, a nurse at Bishop’s University health services. (Submitted by Kendra Brock )

Kendra Brock, a nurse at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, said she's sometimes surprised by just how little students know about STIs.

"Unfortunately, I don't think they're really well informed, so we really try to inform them when they come in for testing." Brock said.

"A lot of the students don't realize you can still get chlamydia, you can still get gonorrhea through unprotected oral sex," she said.

Bishop's has baskets of free condoms distributed throughout their campus, so Brock said that at least for Bishop's students, condom access likely isn't a major contributing factor.

'They're trying to have fun'

Former Bishop's student Maigan Newson isn't surprised to hear STIs are on the rise in the Townships. 

"Whenever I'm thinking about the sex culture at Bishop's, I just think about the amount of drugs and alcohol that are consumed," Newson said.

"So I think maybe that could be just living in the moment, trying to have fun, trying to be the funnest person at the party."

"I think maybe they are just concentrating on the now and not... 'What does this mean for my future?'"

Brock is also concerned by the role drugs and alcohol can play in unsafe sex.

She said that when too much alcohol is involved, "the condom is either not put on at all, or forgotten. or put on badly."

Bishop's student Karla Gallan agrees that there's an issue.

"A lot of individuals have unprotected sex," she said. "I've met some individuals who will shrug and say, 'Oh, I'll just go to health clinic tomorrow morning.'"

Sexual health education should come early

Bishop's dean of students, Jackie Bailey, said that the university often has to play catch up and fill in knowledge gaps for incoming students – something Brock also flags as an issue. 

At present, sexual health is not part of the elementary and high-school curriculum in Quebec, leaving it up to individual schools to choose to what degree they cover the subject.

"I think the lack of sexual education and sex ed and health class in our schools right now could be a factor. They don't give those classes anymore... I think there should be some introduction in primary schools," Brock said.

Petit said that's one reason there are some knowledge gaps among young people, depending on where they were educated. 

No one from the Eastern Townships School Board was available to address how sexual health is taught at its schools.

About the Author

Kate McGillivray

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Kate McGillivray is a jill-of-all-trades at CBC Toronto, working as a reporter in the field and on the digital desk. Originally from west-end Toronto, she began her reporting career in Montreal and Sherbrooke, Quebec and is now thrilled to be home. She likes going places and meeting people.

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