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Mapping Sexual Health Services

A new project is tackling the stigma of STDs, writes Rafi Alam.

When seeing a doctor or health expert, we expect a certain level of respect, empathy, and privacy. But experiences with medical health services vary, depending on how professional the practitioner is, and what the patient brings to them. Unfortunately not every visit is a positive one, with discrimination and insensitivity common practice.

This is what Lucy Watson, Reuben Stone, Lidia Nikon, Anna Belgiorno-Nettis, and Clare Sullivan, a group of media students, want to tackle with their assignment-cum-project Mapping Sexual Health Services (MSHS). MSHS is a planned interactive website that allows people to find and submit sex-positive and queer-friendly doctors, cheap or free contraception, and consent workshops across Sydney using Google Maps and drop-pins. MSHS will let
users search for nearby locations, providing a link, address, phone number, and testimonial.

One of the main motivations for this project was the hushed way sexuality is spoken about in education and in health services. As Ms Watson said: “You don’t know when going in to a doctor to get an STI test if disclosing the fact that you’re queer will be problematic.” Doctors have often made jokes, assumptions, or even criticisms about the sexuality of patients, making them uncomfortable to return.

The MSHS team is also tackling medical discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. They recognise that, unfortunately, medical health professionals often hold insensitive assumptions about the sexuality of people with intellectual disabilities, or avoid giving advice on safe sex and consent. Sometimes it’s just lack of education on how to properly help intellectually disabled people on sexual health issues.

While starting out small, the team is keen to expand to partnerships with other organisations, especially Sydney University’s Students’ Representatives Council. The project is something that could be integrated into Honi’s website, with additional links to other services like ACON which provides sexual health and STI prevention information to the queer community. The team is hoping that this networking will be reciprocated with organisations advocating MSHS to their patients.

When asked about the response to MSHS, the team agreed the feedback was “phenomenal”.

“I can’t believe how responsive and open people have been to it,” Ms Belgiorno-Nettis said, explaining that she initially had reservations about the success of the project.

Part of the scheme is to demonstrate the uses of new media, especially social media. The Facebook page, which at the time of writing has 65 attending, has multiple posts from friends outlining good and bad experiences at different clinics and doctors, despite there being an anonymous alternative.

“This whole thing is about making discussion around sex and sexuality more open”, says Ms Belgiorno-Nettis, by making access to positive sexual health workshops and clinics available to their target student audience.

But there are some drawbacks with the online medium and interactive nature of the project.

Ms Watson has found that “overwhelmingly people want to give negative responses” but instead are focusing on “positive doctor information rather than risking defamation” due to the legal ramifications of “naming and shaming bad doctors”. Users are only able to avoid inadequate or discriminatory services by going to the ones listed on MSHS.

While the map is the central feature of MSHS, Ms Belgiorno-Nettis is quick to say that they’re trying to “cover a whole range of things and the map is only one part of it”.

The team is hoping to present information about abortion, contraception, consent, queer sex, and other issues that are under-represented when students are moving through primary and secondary education.

With the website launching in the near future, you can get involved and keep up to date by searching Facebook for ‘Mapping Sexual Health Services in Sydney’.