12/21/2015 02:29 EST | Updated 12/21/2016 05:12 EST

Share Love, Not Infections This Holiday Season

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Mornings with my real love are special for me

With the holidays approaching, many people tend to slow down and focus on comfort, joy, and closeness with others. We may normally think of cozy situations involving family, food, and festivities. But for many across the globe, this time of the year signifies a different type of bonding in which clothes are optional and the fire comes from deep within.

It started back in 1999 when a research paper examined seasonal variations in sexual activity. There appeared to be an increase around the holiday season. This was backed up in 2002, when another study revealed a rather curious trend in which obstetricians saw a rise in the number of births in September. Subtract nine months and you arrive at the holiday season. This phenomenon, called the "Christmas Effect" suggested more couples were taking the time to snuggle up and enjoy each other's company.

Any increase in activity means there could be a rise in the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The results of these studies suggested there was far more going on in the bedroom than previously thought. As for who might be engaging in this form of intimate sharing, a 2004 survey suggested it could be almost anyone. The authors examined the Christmas Effect from a very different viewpoint. This one focused on singles and their activities whilst on holidays. Sure enough, the results revealed an increase in sexual activity during this time.

This increase in intimacy may appear to be good, particularly for couples. But in the eyes of public health officials, there is a definite risk. Any increase in activity means there could be a rise in the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But this topic hasn't been given much attention over the years. It's not because health authorities are trying to stay out of the bedroom. It's entirely due to a lack of confidence regarding the link and whether it really does exist.

In the 1970s, the seasonal trend was put to the test and essentially failed. There was no spike in STIs seen. In contrast, the 1999 study that started it all revealed an increase in the rates of certain diseases in January suggesting the actual contact happened during the holiday season. In 2010, rather than Christmas, the target was Carnival in Brazil. The results showed no link to the annual festival but did reveal a spike in cases in January, suggesting a holiday link. A similar look at seasonal trends in India released this year revealed a small rise in cases in the first few months but still nothing compared to the summertime.

Making the situation worse is the tendency to seek riskier behaviours when connections are made through social media apps.

Due to at best a meager rise in cases, little has been said about the holidays in relation to STIs. But that may change thanks to a rather disturbing trend seen over the last few years. In almost every category of disease, there has been an increase in the number of cases. In the United States, this rise has been called severe, particularly for young people. In Canada, the rates have also gone up and the rise doesn't appear to be slowing.

Based on the statistics, this holiday season could be a rather bad one for the spread of STIs. More people are infected and thanks to a variety of novel technological applications meaning the potential for casual encounters is greater than it has been before. Singles are not alone in this regard as many sites promote monogamous couples to seek out pleasures away from their committed partner. Making the situation worse is the tendency to seek riskier behaviours when connections are made through social media apps.

While this may be the best route, not everyone follows it. In the 2004 study, over one-third of the people asked didn't use a condom, regardless of whether they knew the partner. In Canada, the rate of condom avoidance appears to be about the same although in some populations, it can be quite lower such as college students and baby boomers.

Unfortunately, when it comes to STIs, there is little that can be done from a public health systems perspective to encourage more condom use. Because the transmission occurs during such an intimate act, it really is up to the individuals engaged to ensure they are being safe. All that can be done is to reinforce the message and hope actions are taken to avoid the risks not only during the holidays but also throughout the year.


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