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Sex diseases rise as men play casual

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There has been a big upsurge in the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in a sign that the safe sex message is wearing off.

Figures presented to the Australasian Sexual Health Conference late last month showed that diagnoses of gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV infections have jumped to their highest levels in years, prompting concerns that a growing number of younger people are putting themselves and their partners at risk by having unprotected sex.

The number of gonorrhoea diagnoses soared to 13,649 cases last year, driven by a three-fold increase in New South Wales, more than double in Victoria and a 53 per cent jump in Queensland.

Syphilis infections have also risen, with 1534 cases diagnosed last year, close to the all-time high.

Adding to public health concerns, figures simultaneously released at the Australasian HIV & AIDS Conference showed there were 2153 new HIV diagnoses in 2012 – the largest number of new cases in 20 years.

Associated Professor David Wilson of the Kirby Institute said the rise could not be put down to better testing alone.

“Some of the rise in reported HIV diagnoses may be due to an increase in testing, but better testing simply cannot explain the magnitude of these rising rates,” Associate Professor Wilson said.

Increases in the incidence of HIV, gonorrhoea and syphilis have coincided with evidence that an increasing number of gay men are having unprotected sex.

A study by the Centre for Social Research in Health at the University of New South Wales found that almost 40 per cent of gay men with casual partners had unprotected anal intercourse in the preceding six months – up from less than 32 per cent in 2003 and 38 per cent in 2012. This behaviour was found to be particularly prevalent among men younger than 25 years.

“The rise in unprotected sex with casual partners has been occurring gradually over the last decade, and we’re now at the highest level ever recorded in our surveys of gay and bisexual men,” Centre director Professor John de Wit said.

Professor de Wit linked the rise in unprotected sex among younger men to findings that they were less likely to have been exposed to HIV prevention campaigns.

Adrian Rollins 

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