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There were more than 435,000 diagnoses of sexual transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK in 20151, and the STI rate in the UK is among the highest in Western Europe. The actual number of infections may be much higher, and if left untreated STIs can have serious consequences for both men and women. These include impotence, infertility and even blindness.2
The number of diagnoses is increasing year-on-year1. Part of this may be because of increased testing rates, but it may also be because sex education is not standardised across the UK. If you’re at all confused about sexual health, read on.
I would know if I had an STI – there would be symptoms
Not necessarily. Many STIs, including some of the most common, like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, can have no physical symptoms. If you’ve had any kind of unprotected sex, even once, you may have been exposed.
STIs are something that young people get
Yes and no. Thanks to lots of proactive public health campaigns, lots of young people are more clued-up on sexual health than older generations. While it’s true young people are less likely to be in a committed relationship and therefore more likely to have several partners, anyone can contract an STI, at any age. For instance, more than half of the genital herpes diagnoses in England in 2015 were for people aged 25 or over1.
You have to have penetrative sex to contract an STI
Sorry, not true. Lots of STIs can be transmitted by oral sex, and some, including syphilis and genital warts, can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. Everyone should have sexual health check-ups, even if they practice safe sex.
There is no vaccination against sexually-transmitted infections
This one is half-true. There is no vaccination against many of the most common STIs. A vaccination has, however, been developed for HPV. HPV is a very common, easily-transmitted infection that affects both men and women, and is the cause in over 99% cases of cervical cancer in young women3.
Since 2008, most school-age girls are offered the HPV vaccine at schools, and it consists of two injections at least six months apart. If you were aged 18 or over before 2009, you probably won’t have been vaccinated. It is not offered to boys at all, although it’s an infection that can affect anyone. HPV can lead to fairly common conditions like genital warts, as well as more serious conditions like some cancers.
I can’t have an STI – I haven’t had sex!
Despite the name, ‘sexually’ transmitted infections that are blood-borne – like HIV or hepatitis B and C – can also be passed from person to person via the needles used to perform tattoos and body piercings, or to inject drugs. Professional tattooists, piercers and medical professionals are tightly controlled to protect against putting you at risk, but you may have been exposed if someone less scrupulous has done this for you.
HIV is a gay man’s illness
This is an outright lie. Anyone can contract HIV. It is more prevalent among the LGBT community4, but gay men are also more likely to know their HIV status and seek treatment that can prevent transmission.
It’s time to make an appointment.
This is no myth. If you are sexually active, you should get a sexual health check at least every 12 months. You should consider going more frequently if you have multiple sexual partners.
Free NHS testing and treatment is available from sexual health centres and GUM clinics nationwide, but there are often long waits because tests are typically offered on a first-come, first-served basis and appointments can be hard to come by.
You may be able to obtain private treatment or testing from BMI Healthcare at a time that’s convenient for you. Search for a list of nearby centres, then click on a hospital and use the dropdown list to see if sexual medicine is available. Testing and treatment is confidential and discreet, and can put your mind your mind at rest if you think you might be at risk.
To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337
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