THE Cork Sexual Health Centre facilitated 385 counselling sessions on crisis pregnancies last year.
The centre, which was established in July 1987 as Cork Aids Alliance, has published its annual report with figures indicating a significant rise in public demand for sexual health services, counselling and support.
The report revealed that staff at the centre saw requests for counselling and support increase by 37% in 12 months, with post-abortion counselling seeing an increase of 104% and crisis pregnancy counselling rising to 385 sessions from 282 the year before.
The centre revealed that it facilitated 479 counselling sessions for people living with or affected by HIV, the majority of whom were aged between 24 and 35.
The centre also conducted more than 800 free Rapid HIV tests, where results are available in one minute, on-site and in community settings across Cork city and county last year.
In total, 2,822 people enquired about STI screening in 2018, indicating a 68% increase compared to the year before.
In 2018, the Cork Sexual Health Centre saw a 13% increase in overall client queries compared to 2017 with the most common queries concerning access to free contraception, followed by requests for STI screening.
“Numbers attending for sexual health, crisis pregnancy, HIV, sexuality and relationship advice continues to increase highlighting the community need for high quality, professional and inclusive services,” said Ciarán Lynch, chairman at the Sexual Health Centre.
Catherine Kennedy, manager of the centre, also put the increased demand down to the growing conversation surrounding sexual health.
Ms Kennedy recently revealed to The Echo that the post-termination counselling service has experienced more calls in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year.
Abortions up to 12 weeks were made legal in Ireland on January 1, 2019, following last year’s repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
“I think the debate leading up to the referendum gave women in Cork a voice and let them have access services that they previously may not have felt comfortable accessing,” she explained.
“It gave both men and women a chance to reflect on choices they may have made in the past but didn’t feel comfortable sharing.”
Ms Kennedy added that the unique partnership between sexual health groups in Cork, the Sexual Health Network, is adding to the increase of people in Cork who are keen to get tested and raise awareness.
“There seems to be a national conversation at the moment and it appears that people are more open to talking about sexual health,” she said .
She added, however, that the conversation needs to continue and expand to ensure education, along with prevention and screening is effective.
“We need this to be a year-round conversation, not just a once-off thing near World Aids Day, to be effective,” said Ms Kennedy.