The information about sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them has been made public around the world. Yet in France, the STD rate increased significantly over the past decade. Oddly enough, this happened despite widespread sexual education.
This wasn’t just one outbreak of a rare sexual disease either. In fact, the infection rate of several diseases rose in the 2010s. Most notably, chlamydia and gonorrhea tripled in France from 2012 to 2016. The sobering reality of this was shared by The Local:
“In 2016, the number of people diagnosed with a chlamydia infection was estimated at 267,097. That means 491 per 100,000 people aged 15 and over had the STI … In 2012, the figure stood at 76,918, less than a third of the 2016 figure. As for gonorrhoea infections, the number of diagnoses was 15,067 in 2012 and 49,628 in 2016 …”
Additionally, HIV has taken a strong toll on the gay community, whom France actually banned from giving blood until around 2015. The Washington Blade reported that by the end of 2016, 43 percent of new HIV cases in France were found among the homosexual community. This was despite HIV rates stabilizing that year.
With information about STDs and sexual health being public knowledge, it seems unlikely for STDs to spread so rapidly. So how did this happen, and how can France be proactive in fighting this problem?
Lack of Medical Care
Whenever there is an outbreak of an STD, one has to look at the resources available in the geographical area. For instance, diseases like HIV and AIDS tend to be common in communities without proper medical care. People, regardless of condom and testing availability, tend to keep having sex, which means diseases are more likely to spread.
The attitude toward sexual health in France can be characterised as odd. A survey conducted in France from 1992 to 2010 found that although condom use for random sexual encounters has become more common over the 18-year study, usage of contraceptives has actually gone down from its peak in 1998. Additionally, people in long-term relationships had stopped worrying about the prevalence of HIV — and therefore stopped using protection while engaging in sexual activities.
Now, condoms are given out for free in sex education classes, but testing is not free across the board. One has to wonder: If all forms of contraception and testing were free, would more people use them? And is it worth a shot?
Where the Establishments Might Help
Sex education is the key to ensuring sexual health awareness can spread throughout France. Personal responsibility is extremely important to a nation’s sexual health, and its people can only act responsibly if they are made aware of sexual health best practices.
Always assume you have a chance of contracting HIV when engaging in risky behavior. The best way to prevent HIV infection during sex is to use a condom. Drugs use can also lead to the spread of HIV, and it is also often connected to sex, as some individuals turn to illegal drugs to enhance their sexual experiences (often in cases of erectile dysfunction) in lieu of using the proper medication safely. Anyone who injects drugs should be sure to use clean equipment — don’t share needles with anyone else. Seek out needle programs and other services to make this easier.
While schools have been trying to make this information well known, the French government has stepped in as well, trying to influence higher rates of contraceptive use. They have chosen to do this by literally reimbursing people for buying protection. Institutional help is necessary, but it unfortunately does not guarantee that sexually active people will make safe choices for themselves.
An Odd Solution to HIV
There may be a treatment to HIV, but industrialized countries across the world have demonised it. It’s found in the drug of cannabis, which is still illegal in France. Regardless, there have been studies that found evidence it being a somewhat effective treatment for HIV.
HIV Plus Mag described how this works, using findings from New York City’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine:
Stimulation of CB2 with compounds called cannabinoid receptor agonists can block the signaling process between HIV and CXCR4, one of the main types of receptors that allow HIV to enter and infect a cell … By stimulating activation of CB2 with cannabinoid receptor antagonists, Mount Sinai researchers decreased the ability of HIV to infect cells that utilize CXCR4, reducing the frequency of infected cells by 30 to 60 percent.
In other words, chemicals in cannabis can block the effects of HIV and reduce the amount of infected cells. However, how could a country like France, which keeps marijuana illegal, utilize the effects of cannabis in fighting the problem they have with HIV?
One way is by encouraging the use of CBD oil, which is legal. CBD oil is extracted from hemp (as opposed to marijuana) but contains little THC (the chemical that gets a person high when they smoke marijuana). If HIV users applied CBD oil properly, the effects described above could work against their disease. However, the chances of the French government popularising this information — which may encourage people to use marijuana illegally — are slim.
Yet, with the importance of sex education, it may be time for French schools to include this in their curriculum. The country is recovering from these epidemics, and they need all the strength they can get. For now, continuing to share key information regarding safe sex and emphasising its importance to sexually active people will remain the primary ways in which these outbreaks can be fought and reduced.