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My sex and relationships predictions for 2010

January 1st, 2010

Dr Petra

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse

First off, a very Happy New Year to you! Welcome to my first entry for 2010, which regular readers will know is traditionally set aside for predicting what could happen to sex and relationships in the next 12 months. If you want to see what I thought would happen last year (and how accurate I was) then click here.

So, what can we expect for 2010?

Our approach to managing STIs (in the UK at least) will change focus
In the past our approach to STIs has been to raise awareness of what they are, how you get them, and focus in particular on prevention based messages – with the emphasis on condom use. 2010 won’t see that approach abandoned, but it will see a shift in how we address STIs. More efforts will be made to get people (particularly the under 25s) tested for STIs (particularly Chlamydia and Gonorrhea). This is due to testing for many STIs being quicker to administer and run than in the past (many are now simply pee-in-a-pot based) and new ideas coming from research into modernising health services. But it’s also due to ongoing problems with blocks in accessing sexual health services (and getting condoms); condom messaging being delivered sporadically in public health campaigns; and many young people not using condoms (despite being told about them). This shift in how we approach STIs will mean we get better at testing, diagnosing and treating, but it’s unclear whether this will impact negatively on prevention-based (and condom focused) messaging.

Divorce and separation rates will continue to rise
This isn’t really a prediction as we already know it is happening – blamed in part on the recession. But it seems unlikely the current trend in relationship difficulties many couples are experiencing will reduce in the coming year.

Contraception will be big news

Alongside a shift to focus on testing/treatment for STIs, we’ll see an additional change in the promotion of contraception. Already there are more public health messages around contraception choices than we’ve seen in decades. With practitioners also being encouraged to promote contraception use (and Long Acting Reversible Contraception – LARC) in particular. Although condoms will be included within this, the focus is going to be on a wider range of contraception options related to pregnancy prevention. This is in response to high teenage pregnancy rates – but also high termination rates for older women. Undoubtedly better access to and awareness of contraception is positive, but we will need to review as the year goes on what impact a focus on contraception generally rather than emphasising condoms specifically will have.

Premature Ejaculation will be publicised as key problem for men
We’ve already been hearing about this with aggressive sales techniques aimed at making men feel anxious and by Premature Ejaculation (PE) products and new drugs in the pipeline for PE. But in 2010 medicalising men’s sexual problems will be big news. You can expect to hear via the media about high prevalence levels of PE, the trauma it causes, and new products aimed to fix the problem. Press coverage will be largely uncritical, with little practical advice aimed at men with concerns about their sexual functioning. Clearly nobody’s denying PE exists or downplay the distress it can cause. But in the next twelve months will see the problem overhyped and a lack of clear information for men on how to deal with the problem. Myself and others will be working hard to counter this and provide frank advice about PE and what to do if it affects you.

We’ll focus more on ‘problem’ sex rather than sex positive messages

I’d love to look back in twelve months time and see a year full of positive, accurate and celebratory messages about sex and relationships. But I suspect this won’t happen (not that many folk, including me, won’t give it a try). Given our current preoccupation with celebrity cases of infidelity, domestic violence, custody battles and bitter divorces these stories are likely to keep rolling and provide platforms for ‘relationship experts’ to promote outdated, untested and incorrect ideas.

It’s time to think of new ways to prevent HIV

At the close of 2009 the biggest trial investigating microbicide gel as a means to prevent the transmission of HIV concluded the gel was ineffective. This is depressing news as microbicides had looked promising in the fight against HIV. Although it was correct to trial microbicides to see if they were effective, and be open about their lack of promise. In 2010 (and for as long as it takes) researchers will be working hard to investigate new ways to protect people from HIV. I’ll be reporting on some of these initiatives in the coming twelve months.

We’ll see social networks constructed as peril-for-relationships
Social networks have been hailed as a means of getting old flames together and improving people’s social lives, but we’ve also been hearing about social networks as the destroyer of relationships. You can expect to hear a lot more on this in 2010 – with case studies, self help books, and a range of media features telling us about the problem (which will be exaggerated, linked to ‘sex addiction’, but unlikely to give actionable support for those affected).

Sex blogging may well change and become more cautious and (self)censored
This might be a storm in a teacup, but 2009 is ending with a firestorm among sex bloggers embroiled in bitter arguments and outings. I’ll be updating on this issue in early January, but the fallout may well mean that bloggers don’t feel so safe to write openly, will avoid controversial topics, and past allegiances may be broken. [Interestingly if you go back to 2007 Cory Silverberg and others were writing about what the future held for sex blogs and what we ought to expect from good sex blogging. Many of the issues raised there still haven’t been addressed and part of the current fallout across the blogosphere is based around the ethics, approach and content of sex blogs – and the actions of sex bloggers]

The media will be thrilled about long term love

Whether you’re married or living together, 2010 is likely to see the long term relationship regain new status. Whether this is down to a backlash against the uncertainties of the recession, political emphasis on ‘the family’, or simply cashing in on a topic that’s not really been explored much by the self help market, we can expect to see an abundance of guides, experts and case studies emphasising the benefits of long term love. Movies and novels will also focus on this issue. Celebrating positive long term relationships is great. But be on the look out for advice that is more about instructing us on how our lives should look, or is a cover for promoting homophobic or prejudiced views of relationships by maintaining the only acceptable (and successful) relationships are those that are long term, monogamous, heterosexual ones. It may be the seemingly positive endorsement of long term relationships is a stick to beat anyone who is single, separated, divorced, unhappy with their partner, or not in a monagmous or heterosexual relationship.

Family planning and environmental activism will combine

Strange bedfellows – possibly, but in 2010 you can expect to see reproductive health charities adopting environmental messages to advocating contraception use as a means to target climate change. My point is not to debate climate change here, but to draw attention to potential problems in promoting a message that may be well meaning but not always clearly explained. It’s questionable how helpful it will be to tell people in the developing world (whose contribution to climate change is small) that they should restrict family size to protect the environment. (There are plenty of good reasons to encourage family planning – not least to increase maternal and infant health). I’m not sure how meaningful such messages would be to healthcare providers, educators or the public. And it’s unclear how such messaging may fit within services that already often struggle in terms of access, use and acceptability. Critics may argue why instead we don’t require those in the West to reduce their far larger consumption levels? Reproductive health is already a controversial topic among many countries, but combining it with environmental messages could embroil it within further controversy that might well hinder rather than help initiatives.

And sex education? Well, I predict that I just don’t know what will happen

After lengthy campaigns and petitioning in 2009 we learnt the government will make sex education statutory – with plans to bring this in during late 2010 or 2011. We still need to focus on what will be taught and empower teachers to deliver such messages effectively. We have no guarantees this will happen if labour stay in power, but if they do not get re-elected it is possible our approach to sex education will remain the same (or worsen). With many Primary Care Trusts already gearing up for a labour defeat and teachers in schools uncertain about what training they need, we will have to wait and see what happens next. No doubt there are plenty of practitioners who’ll continue to work to improve our school based sex education regardless of the election result, but the coming year is a worrying one for the future of quality sex education in the UK.

So, those are my hunches. What do you think’s going to happen? And while you’re thinking about that, why not make some sex positive resolutions for the next twelve months – or even the next decade?

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