Safe sex campaign in Sydney targets travellers

Spend a Friday or Saturday night at any one of Sydney's beachside or inner-city pubs and bars and the chances are you will witness one of the more common sights - alcohol-fuelled backpackers getting up close and personal.

Spend a Friday or Saturday night at any one of Sydney's beachside or inner-city pubs and bars and the chances are you will witness one of the more common sights - alcohol-fuelled backpackers getting up close and personal.

Research released this week suggests that 50 per cent of all backpackers visiting Australia have casual sex at some stage on their trip and a hefty proportion of these aren't as scrupulous as they might be about safe sex practices.

Which is why the Family Planning Association in Sydney is launching an initiative that will see the city's pubs and clubs flooded with free condoms. Rusty vending machines in the pub toilets are not doing the trick, according to FPA research. So the plan is to make sure young people are offered every opportunity to be "Safe in the Sack".

Posters and drink coasters will accompany the free condom blitz in the campaign, aimed at a city that has become a major international junction for travellers and backpackers.

STD clinics in Britain have already started to count the cost of a slackening in awareness of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among travellers in recent years. A report last month in the British Medical Journal found that all people visiting a particular sexual health clinic within three months of their return from holiday had sexual relations with a new partner during their trip. Two-thirds either hadn't used condoms or used them "haphazardly".

Most also said that tour workers had actively promoted sex between travellers or neglected to warn of the risk involved.

Sydney is no stranger to the promotion of safe sex campaigns. But it has generally been among the gay community, which was decimated in the 1980s and 1990s by the AIDS epidemic, that the message has been pushed the hardest.

Sydney's gay and lesbian community is among the largest, per capita, in the world and the annual Mardi Gras festival has traditionally been targeted for the safe sex message.

But after a decade of cases of new HIV infections falling each year, STDs and HIV in particular are on the rise again as people become more blasé. Young travellers whose awareness of STIs tends to become dulled by the excitement of being away from home, are particularly vulnerable, according the report.

"Unprotected casual sex places backpackers at risk because as travellers they often spend time in areas where HIV and other STD patterns are different from those with which they are familiar," Sydney-based sexual health expert Dr Linda Dayan said.

International studies show that a significant proportion of STDs are acquired while abroad.

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