With the festive season in full swing, it’s the time of year full of office parties, celebrations with friends and perhaps a Christmas romance. However, it’s also a time when you need to remember to take the right precautions and be aware of the risks of having unprotected sex.
In 2016, there were approximately 420,000 diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections made in England1. Chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK2, however other STI’s such as gonorrhoea, genital warts and genital herpes are also commonly seen. Some STI’s are actually symptomless and many people are unaware that they are affected, which can make it easy for the infections to be transmitted to other sexual partners.
Who is at risk?
It doesn’t matter what age you are, what your sexual preference is, or how many times you’ve had sex, it can take just one sexual encounter to contract an STI. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk; however, if you engage in unprotected sex then you have a greater chance of exposing yourself to an unwanted infection. Other risk factors include having multiple sexual partners, or if you’ve previously had an STI as it can be much easier for another STI to take hold.
There are many ways that you can prevent or reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections. Although abstaining from sexual contact altogether is the only way to guarantee that you will not contract an infection, there are steps that you can take to help you to stay safe:
Communicating with your partner and discussing your sexual history
Staying with the same partner over a long period of time
Using protection, e.g. a latex condom every time you have sex
Avoiding the overconsumption of alcohol as this can impair your decision-making abilities
Alcohol and sexual health
Consuming alcohol has the ability to lower people’s inhibitions which makes them more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour and do things they usually wouldn’t do.
Young people in particular are at a higher risk compared to other age groups. In 2015, 15 to 24-year-olds accounted for 62% of those with chlamydia, 52% with gonorrhoea and 51% with genital warts3. On occasions, such as Christmas, where you're consuming more alcohol than you usually would, it’s more important than ever to practice safe sex.
Symptoms to look out for
Sexually transmitted infections can have a range of different signs and symptoms depending on the infection. There are some STI’s that show no symptoms which is why the infections can go undiagnosed for such long periods of time.
Common symptoms include:
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Sores or bumps in the genital area
- Genital itching
- Unusual discharge
- Pain when having sex
- Abdominal pain
Fortunately, many STI’s can be treated, but there are some that can’t. For STI’s that are caused by bacteria, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis, a course of antibiotics should combat the infection. However, if the STI is caused by a virus, such as HIV, AIDS, HPV, genital warts and genital herpes, then it can only be controlled but not cured.
For HIV, although there is no cure, there are a range of treatments available that can help many people to live a long and healthy life. Antiretroviral drugs are used to help stop the virus from duplicating and to give the immune system the opportunity to repair itself before more damage is done4.
However, depending on the symptoms and infection, different types of sexual health treatments will be recommended for each specific case.
If you're concerned about any symptoms you may have or if you want to discuss your sexual health in general, it would be beneficial to book a sexual health test for a check-up. Not only will this help to bring you peace of mind, but it's a great step in taking control of your sexual health.
You can find out more about sexual health here.