Sex Talk Episode 6 – Sex and Alcohol
Voice Over: You're listening to Sex Talk. A podcast all about sex. In this episode expect to hear some colourful language and conversations of a sexual nature. You may want to pop on a pair of headphones for some privacy during this programme.
Voice over: Sex talk. Coming up on this episode of sex talk:
Alex: I went on a night out and about 6 months later I got really ill, I lost a lot of weight and I was diagnosed with HIV so yeah… so one night led to quite a long road after that.
Voice over: Sex talk. Starting a conversation about sex. --
Adele : Hi, welcome Sex Talk. I'm Adele Roberts and I'm joined by my lovely co-presenter Hiliary Ineomo-Marcus
Hilary: Hello Miss Roberts, or Adele even. As is evident in the title,this is a podcast all about sex, so expect some colourful language and at times – full on chat!
If you've listened to the previous five episodes, you would have heard us delving into different aspects of sex, from sexual health to addiction, sex and dating to sexuality and religion. We have been joined by a host of doctors, therapists, experts and sexperts who have been sharing their experiences and advice on how to stay safe and healthy.
Adele: If this is your first time listening to Sex Talk- welcome! Please subscribe to this podcast so you can be kept up to date with all the latest episodes, and go back through the archive and listen to our previous conversations!
Hilary: In the last episode of Sex Talk we were talking all about Sexuality and Religion, and in this episode we are going to be delving into the world of sex and alcohol.
Adele: Yes, this is something that I think a lot of people will feel goes hand in hand, sex and alcohol.
Hilary: I would agree.
Adele: I don't drink for this reason, it just does that to you. I don't drink because I just get silly and I don't know where boundaries are, and I regret it the next day and the day after.
Hilary: It removes all the inhibitions you could possibly have when you are sober.
Voice over: Sex talk, with your hosts, Adele and Hilary. -
Adele: When drinking, we're more likely to put ourselves in more risky situations.
Hilary: Studies have shown that the more alcohol people drink, the less likely they are to use a protection, and for those who do use a condom, they are less likely to put it on correctly, which means they are more at risk of catching STI's and HIV, as well as causing unwanted pregnancies.
Adele: On this episode of Sex Talk we will be hearing from some of the wonderful Outreach Team at the Terrence Higgins Trust, who walk around the clubs and bars in London's Soho every Thursday evening handing out condoms and advice to those on a night out.
Hilary: We'll also be joined in the studio by Alex, somebody who's got his own story to tell about taking risks after a night of big drinking.
Adele : But as a bit of a warm up it's that time again, the time where me and Hilary use our right to exercise our vocal chords with our favourite feature, Word Porn!
Voice over: Sex talk. Word porn –
Adele : I've been dying to get my hand on this book, I've not seen you for a whole week. Do you mind if I go first?
Hilary: No Adele. Do the honours.
Adele: Who is this woman on the front by the way?
Hilary: I don't know.
Adele: Who does she look like?
Hilary: Good question.
Adele: She looks cold, she's got no clothes on.
Hilary: She looks like an Ashley.
Adele: Okay Ashley I'm going to open you. Right can I go for a letter S please.
Hilary: Got you, right, flick through this book, Ashley give me a good one.
Adele: Be kind to us Ashley.
Hilary: Define the word self pollution.
Adele: Why do you give me all the dirty ones? Polluting yourself? Why do you give me them ones?
Hilary: Self pollution. It could be anything. It could be something very innocent.
Adele: Let me try and take my mind out the gutter, which is tough for me to do.
Hilary: It's to do with you.
Adele: Do I do this one?
Hilary: Most people do.
Adele: Is it when you have rude thoughts?
Hilary: It's more to do with an action. It's about exercising those thoughts.
Adele: Oh goodness okay, is it using your hands in a certain place on your body… I'm trying to think of the nice way to put it. I can't think of a nice way of saying what it is. Masturbation.
Hilary: There you go, spot on, go on Adele get in there!
Adele: I was going to go for the W word, and I was like 'come on Adele think of a different one', oh yeah masturbation I remember.
Hilary: Get in there. It's an obsolete term for masturbation. 17th-19th century. Thank god we no longer use that word because it sounds all wrong.
Adele: It's good for the soul isn't it? Bit of self pollution.
Hilary: What are you doing tonight? I'm self polluting.
Voice over: Sex talk. Word porn. -
Adele: Ok, back to today's talking point, Sex and Alcohol.There is a psychological term called 'Alcohol Myopia' which basically means, alcohol short-sightedness. People who are drunk are more likely to be attracted to things which provide them immediate pleasure without a thought of future risk, such as unprotected sex.
Hilary: We are joined in the studio now by Alex Causton-Ronaldston who has his own story to tell about sex and alcohol. Welcome to Sex Talk Alex!
Alex: Hi, thanks.
Adele: Alex, thank you so much for joining us today. You're here with us because you've got your own story about where alcohol blurred your judgement. Can you tell us what happened?
Alex: So I suppose it was four years ago – it was definitely four years ago. I went on a night out and about 6 months later I got really ill, I lost a lot of weight and I was diagnosed with HIV so yeah… so what one night led to quite a long road after that.
Adele: So you feel you could trace back your steps to that one point in time?
Alex: Yeah so I suppose one of the things with condom usage and safe sex for me was if I was of sound mind, i.e. not drunk, was that I was always very safe and always very considerate in terms of my sexual health and those around me – so getting tested regularly and making sure that I was using condoms etc. or whatever I had available to me at the time and I think once under the influence it was one of those things were when self esteem comes into it the moment that you've plucked up the courage – i.e. through Dutch courage – to hit on someone then the moment that you go 'oh my god I've pulled yes!' navigating safe sex is difficult in itself when sober, but the moment you add alcohol into the mix you take away a certain level of inhibitions and then on top of that you've got self esteem coming into play, and actually then turning around and trying to navigate safe sex is even harder.
Hillary : Safe sex, what does that mean for you in terms of when you're sober?
Alex: It depends. The narratives changed a lot in the last four years, so being a gay man I am at high risk – I was at high risk of HIV – now I have it. But you know it's one of those things where back then condom use was effectively the only real treatment we had. We've come a long way and medical advances mean that we now have PrEP and treatment as prevention. So PrEP beingPre-exposure prophylaxis, the pills you can take to stop you contracting HIV and then on the other side of it – so I'm what's known as undetectable which means I have an undetectable viral load which means I can't actually pass on HIV, and studies have shown that if you're on effective treatment you can't pass on the virus. So back then safer sex was generally condom use. Obviously today we'd always still recommend condom use but there are other lines of defence, other arms in the tool kit now to prevent against HIV specifically.
Adele: That's why I love doing this podcast because I learn so much stuff. I had no idea about PrEP and I had no idea about undetectable HIV.
Hilary : Likewise. Was there anybody in your life at the time, prior to you contracting HIV that had already been diagnosed with HIV?
Alex: So it was an odd one because even back then – back then, the dark depths of 2013 – especially in the gay scene in London, I'd just moved to London, and I found myself surrounded by people, the narrative wasn't 'If I contract HIV' it was 'when' because it was seen as an inevitability.
Alex: Yeah it was very much – in my group of friends – 'well to be honest I can't really protect myself from it, it's probably going to happen so you know what? I won't bother' so I knew a lot of people who were HIV positive and I suppose we were in this interesting environment where if you're diagnosed with HIV and go on to treatment you can live a long and healthy life which almost brings in a perception of 'well if it's manageable, it's manageable' and it became less scary, but more prevalent and I suppose so much has changed since then and everyone's talking about it totally differently. So I'm a member of the outreach team at the Terrence Higgins trust and in national HIV testing week in 2014 we went out with testing kits where you could go out and give people kits to take home and send them off in the post to get their results. Back then we struggled to get through two in the whole entire week, to give out two. National HIV testing week last year, in 2017 we gave out I think about 70-80 a night. People are a lot more open to talk about it now and test for it, which means navigating safer sex becomes more than just condom use because people are more open and talking about it now.
Hilary: So that attitude of it's not a case of if, it's more a case of when. Does that still exist now?
Alex: Absolutely not, that's totally gone and I absolutely adore it, it's so amazing to be part of the fight for PrEp. PrEp isn't officially totally available on the NHS so it's available in NHS Scotland, but NHS England, they've just released a 10,000 person trial. 8,000 are for MSM, so men who have sex with men, and then the other 2000 are for other high risk categories, say sex workers, drug users etc. Especially women who are high risk, so in African communities etc. And the thing it, there's waiting lists at nearly every clinic because everyone wants to protect themselves and it's so amazing to see those around me, especially in the LGBTQ community who are talking about it – 'Oh I'm on PrEp'. I've got a Whatsapp group that I'm in – other messaging apps are available – and in that group nearly all of my friends in that group are on PrEp and they talk about it openly and it's just such a wonderful thing to know that my friends won't have to go through what I went through, which was quite a tough time back then.
Adele: So the sexual health education is brilliant, but what we started talking about, the alcohol side of things, what about that side? Is there anything that the outreach team are doing to help educate people in terms of alcohol and staying safe on a night out?
Alex: It's one of those interesting things because when I go on these nights out generally either people are starting to drink or might be a little bit drunk. The conversation gets quite funny and quite lairy, and I mean some people get taken aback at how easily I'm able to talk about sex in quite an open way, but the way people want to talk to you about it, it's about getting tested and it's those lines of defence you have available to you. And I suppose if you're walking into a situation where you might go and have sex that night and if your inhibitions might be lowered, if you can walk into that having tested and knowing that you are HIV negative, that you haven't got any of the other STIs, that you're being responsible to other people and you're not passing something on to to other people, and vice versa. If you're in the same situation and you know the other person is testing as well regularly that you're putting yourself at a lot less risk, and that doesn't necessarily remove all of those nervous questions that need to be asked and navigating safer sex but when you've got testing, treatment and prevention and PrEp available to you, it makes the conversations when you're drunk a lot easier to have because a lot of the time it's really flippant. If I sometimes, potentially, might do that, I will walk into a situation with someone, be that through an app or in person in a bar god forbid, people still do that apparently… And it's really easy to have that conversation and say 'by the way I'm HIV positive, I'm undetectable which means I can't pass it on' they're like 'okay let's do it'.
Hilary: Alex, looking at you now you're a very healthy man, had you not made that disclosure I would never have known that you have HIV – undetectable of course. But how has that diagnosis changed your life? Paint a picture for people so that they're empowered by your personal journey.
Alex: So if I can look back to the night, or back then when it was going on I was a very nervous guy, very little self confidence, finding myself being hit on by attractive men was such an unknown experience, so there was no navigation of safe sex, there was no 'by the way are you HIV positive are you not?' Just 'oh my god this is happening', so the journey I've been on since then, the conversations around sex and the conversations around my own self respect of my own body, that's been such a huge thing for me. Because back then I was going out a lot, the nervous guy I was then who had very little self respect, and allowed other people to pressure me into situations I wouldn't necessarily have put myself in, is totally different to the person I am now, and I have control of my body and I have control of who I let access my body I suppose is the way to put it, and it is that self respect thing and really caring about myself as a human being, and knowing if I get myself into that situation when I'm drunk, because I have respect of my own body and I can respect myself, it means other people respect it too.
Adele: So Alex, you mentioned earlier that you work with the Terrence Higgins Trust visiting the clubs and bars around Soho. We're going to hear from some of the team now as they ventured around the busy area the Thursday before St Patricks Day…
Voice over: Sex talk. Starting a conversation about sex.
Richard : My name's Richard Watkins and I work for Terrance Higgins Trust as a Soho health promotion officer.
Rebecca : And I'm Rebecca Tallon-De Havilland, and we work together as a team and we're just about to go out but we're also going to talk to a new recruit tonight.
Richard : so Javier's joining us for the first time this evening, and we're joined by some of our volunteers who've been doing it for a long time so we're just going to explain what the service is and what we do for Javier's benefit, as well as a recap for the others. So we are the Terrance Higgins Trust Soho outreach team. We go around as a group into bars and clubs promoting safe sex and raising HIV awareness and engaging with members of the public, mainly MSM – gay and bisexual men – but we don't limit ourselves just to that demographic.
Rebecca : I think it's really important because people drinking, and how people might feel more inclined not to use a condom the more they drink so it's important.
Richard : And what we've also done – as well as condoms and safer sex literature like stuff about PrEP, we've also given out rapid HIV tests in the past, and what we're really mindful of that with regards to people drinking in the bars is to always give out information about how they can follow up any test result. So we go out at like 7 o clock, obviously if people are staying out 'till midnight or 1, they're probably getting drunker and drunker and we want to make sure that information on how to follow up and how to get in contact with us is there. So as part of tonight's outreach we're going to be promoting PrEP. We promote this with condom use as well – we try and promote all different kinds of sexual health awareness in our outreach… Okay gang, let's go!
Richard: We're with Terrance Higgins Trust and we're raising awareness for prep. What do you think about prep?
Contributor 1 : I do take, and my partner together, we're taking PrEP which is really important. You have to think about your future and you have to protect yourself and I'm really happy because I read an article, first time ever it's falling…
Richard: HIV rates and diagnosis.
Contributor 1: Yes exactly and the thing is if you have to take a pill a day, be bloody responsible.
THT Team Member: What are you doing, are you celebrating something this evening?
Just having a wine?
Well what I'm really here to do is spread a bit of awareness, so our campaign this year is called can't pass it on. So the can't pass it on campaign is related to a fairly recent development that if you're on successful treatment, so you're HIV positive but you're taking your treatment and you're viral load, which is how they measure whether you're positive, if that drops to undetectable you cannot pass it on so you cannot infect another man or another woman and also, as a mother, you can't pass it on to your unborn child and that is huge progress, it's a massive change to make when you think about the fact that globally there are more women living with HIV than there are men and that's something most people don't know. We all think of it as a gay man's disease, it's a drug user's disease, actually there are masses of women out there who are with it and if we can help raise awareness and promote funding and promote that and make sure everyone has access to that treatment, then they can conceive children and have children and those children will be safe, and the world will be a better place. So is that worth a sticker? That's worth a bloody sticker…
Rebecca : I just had this wonderful conversation in the Admiral Duncan with two women actually, I was putting their can't pass it on badge on them and basically one of the women said to me 'my son just came out as being gay last year at Pride' to her and his father and she just said to me that she worries more about him and I just said obviously and especially I think people will worry more if your child is gay or lesbian or whatever, because you feel it's a tougher road. I'm transgender and I have a child, and if she said it to me, I'd worry too because I know it's a tougher road and we have to fight for things a lot more than other people do. But I did say to her also, well things are different now. There are people like myself going around giving out condoms, giving out information. People are definitely getting a lot more aware of sexuality and also about sexual diseases and all that. And I think it's really important not just to give out condoms but that we talk to people and we let them know what the story is.
Rebecca : Hi guys, well done all of you! How did everybody enjoy that?
THT Team member: Yeah it was fun! I had a good time!
THT Team Member : I had two really good conversations, both the guys were quite young, about PrEP, they had no idea about it and when I explained it they were amazed so it's amazing that, it just reaffirms why we're doing the work we do to get the word out there. I also had one not so nice conversation with a girl that said 'I'm not that kind of girl' and we had an interesting conversation about HIV rising in the heterosexual community as well. But it just shows that the stigma still exists and again highlights that it's so important why we do what we're doing.
Richard : what I enjoyed today is some people saying, when we talk to them about PrEP, 'oh but you know I don't use PrEP, what about condoms? and then we had condoms to give to them as well. I think what we're trying to do is have a multifaceted approach and say 'you might want PrEP you might want condoms, whatever it is just take charge of your sexual health.
Rebecca : So yeah it's been a great night, woohoo, well done!
Richard: And welcome Javier!
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Adele: What a lovely team.
Hilary : Absolutely. The spirit behind it ultimately, which is just to help people and raise awareness, is absolutely awesome.
Alex: It's a really rewarding experience. Really challenging as well, people who have weird perceptions or are really overly negative about things can be quite challenging but at the end of the day if you can just help one person it really makes a difference.
Adele: And you guys are non-judgemental as well. That was wonderful just to hear that you're like right okay you're not into PrEP we'll give you a condom or just give you all the tools you need to have a safe night.
Alex: Yeah we're not there to lecture people at all and I will never tell someone how to live their life or what safe sex means to them. What I want to do is give them the tools they need to equip themselves in any way they want to do it.
Hilary: You go out at such an early time, do you ordinarily find people drunk by 7pm.
Alex: It's London. They finished work an hour and a half before that. No, you find people at different states of disrepair. And some people will be stone cold sober, just in from the office and they'll be like 'wow okay we're having this conversation now?' but generally most people are welcoming. Some people say 'no thank you I'm actually having an in depth conversation with my friend right now', okay well I'll leave you a leaflet and some condoms, go have fun. Other people get a bit awkward about it, some people want to have a really in depth conversation about it and I found myself before where my whole team's been waiting outside the bar for me like 'Alex' and I'm like 'just another 17 minutes, I'm really in depth I'm getting through to this guy!'. It's interesting because there are so many assumptions about someone living with HIV, and people thinking they're still at risk with me when they're having sex with me. There's only so many times I can say to someone it is statistically safer for you to sleep with me than to sleep with someone who says they're HIV negative but hasn't tested for 6, 12 months.
Adele: Well thank you for being so honest and open. You've taught me so much today and it's thanks to people like you that I think the conversation will be normalised and hopefully we'll get that future, it will happen. Thank you for joining us on this episode of sex talk, you've been wonderful.
Alex : Thank you very much.
Voice over: Sex talks, Adele and Hilary. -
Adele: Unfortunately we're almost out of time! We just have enough time to bust one more myth!
Hilary : Let's bust that myth baby.
Voice over: Sex talk. Myth busters. With Dr Stuar Flannagan. -
Hilary: Ok, so this episode's myth is 'You can use substitutes, such as cling film, instead of condoms'. What do you think Adele? True or false?
Adele: I once wrapped a soup in cling film and it still spilled so I'm going to say no.
Hilary : Great example and I'm sure it's one that's common to most of our listeners. Well I went out and asked the general public what they thought, and here's the result…
Hilary : You can use substitutes such as cling film instead of condoms true or false?
That's false, absolutely false! Cling film! I don't believe that at all, it's too thin, won't withstand nothing and will just break.
I think condoms are designed to do what they do and what you mentioned there definitely is not designed for it so I would say false.
No I don't agree with it I think it's not false it's just b*** s****…
I never tried it but maybe I don't know – false.
Adele: I like the first guy that was like true.
Hilary : So much conviction – true. He's obviously tried it before. But obviously Adele some people do think cling film is an appropriate instrument to use as an alternative to condoms, however we're going to call Dr Stuart to straighten this one out for us…
Hello Dr Stuart, how are you?
Dr Stuart: Hi Hilary, I'm good.
Hilary: As a man of history I heard all about sheep's intestines being used as a condom in the past and the myth goes like this: ' can use substitutes such as cling film instead of condoms. What's your verdict, what's the truth?
Dr Stuart: I've heard a few things, crisp packet was one that some people suggested to me as a condom substitute, I don't think I'd like to be on the receiving end of that.
Hilary: I don't think anybody would.
Dr Stuart: So the answer is you can't really substitute anything for a condom because, as someone mentioned, condoms are specially made to do the job that they're made to do and that's to stop sperm and seminal fluid from getting anywhere that it shouldn't get. Also they've got spermicide so if you're using condoms as contraception they will help kill the sperm and stop them from meeting any eggs that are around. So some things that we use with condoms like lubricants can sometimes weaken them or break them, so it's really important to use water based lube which will work with the condom and not cause them to break down but yeah there's really no substitute. Go to your pharmacy, make sure it's been approved and you're good to go.
Hilary: Now they say size doesn't matter, but are there sizes in condoms, does it matter?
Dr Stuart: As long as you get one that actually fits you, because if you get one that's too big or too small then it might slip off or break so it's important to maybe try out a few sizes before you have sex with them.
Hilary: You've been a great help thank you so much Dr Stuart.
Dr Stuart: No worries Hilary, happy to help.
Hilary: Fantastic I've got you on speed dial.
Voice over: Myth Busters, with Dr Stuart Flanagan
Adele : Unfortunately, It's that time again!
Hilary: Yep, that's it for this week's episode of Sex Talk. We'd like to thank today's guests, Alex Causton-Ronaldson, and the rest of the gang at the Soho Terrance Higgins Trust outreach team, especially Rebecca and Richard.
Adele: If you'd like to find out more about Sex Talk you can visit our website, sextalk.radio and if you've not already please do subscribe to receive the latest episodes of Sex Talk so you don't miss a single thing!
Hilary : You can also join in the conversation by using the hashtag #SexTalkPod
Adele: If you need further advice or support on any of the issues raised in this episode of Sex Talk contact your GP. They should provide out of hours contact details for emergency calls.
Hilary: Alternatively you can go online - www.nhs.co.uk - to find your nearest STI testing and treatment service.
Adele: If you're concerned about HIV - Positively UK - can offer advice. Their helpline is open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm on 020 7713 0444.
Hilary: As always, stay safe, and keep talking.
Voice over: Thanks for listening to sex talk. The conversation doesn't stop here. Search hashtag sex talk pod and keep talking. Sex talk. -