A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is diagnosed in England every 70 seconds.
In the past decade alone, gonorrhoea rates have increased by 249%. Syphilis, too, is up by 165% – cases are now at their highest level since WWII!
There’s an argument that apps are partly to blame. Between 2016 and 2017, a 79% increase in syphilis in Wales was said to be largely the result of emerging dating apps. But while Tinder and Hinge have allowed casual hook-ups to be more easily arranged, they aren’t the problem. The problem is that current sexual education doesn’t reflect today’s sexual trends.
To increase awareness in a world better connected than ever, we’ve compiled this guide to all things STIs.
So, what are STIs?
STIs are diseases passed on from one person to another, usually during sex without a condom or through genital contact. There are some STIs that are additionally spread through sharing vibrators or other sex toys that have not been washed.
Typically, symptoms of STIs include:
- Pain during urination
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Unusual discharge from the genitals or anus
- Sores around the genitals or anus
- Lumps or skin growths around the genitals or anus
- Itchy genitals or anus
It goes without saying that you should visit your nearest sexual health clinic if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
But bear in mind that, while the above may sound like something you’d definitely notice, some STIs are symptomless or don’t show symptoms for a lengthy period of time. So, if you’re having casual sex without a condom, you should be testing yourself for STIs in between partners.
How can I get tested for STIs?
That all depends on what you think you may have. Some of your sexual partners will be honest and confess to you what they’ve been diagnosed with. In that case, you can purchase a specific test online or visit your local GP.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have an honest partner, the common STIs you should be aware of are:
An often-symptomless infection that can progress to a severe disease, chlamydia is easily treated and cured. Simply explain to the nurse at the sexual health clinic your circumstance and you’ll be asked to perform a straightforward urine test. Alternatively, you can purchase a home chlamydia testing kit if you prefer to be discrete.
Sounds simple, right? You’d think so, but only 1,304,133 chlamydia tests were carried out amongst young people in 2018 – a 22% decline since 2014. And yet 131,269 positive diagnoses of chlamydia were reported in that very same year.
Perhaps this rise in recklessness is down to a common misconception that chlamydia isn’t too serious. This is false. It’s been proven to cause devastating long-term health problems if left untreated and can cause unusual discharge in men and bleeding between periods for women.
Tested in the same way, gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that causes discharge in the penis or vagina. For a woman, it can spread into the womb, urethra and even the throat or eyes. It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby, potentially causing blindness in the child if left untreated.
There were 56,259 diagnoses of gonorrhoea reported in 2018, which is a 26% increase since 2017. This was especially concerning as a particularly drug-resistant strain of the disease was discovered that year.
While 1 in 10 infected men and almost half of infected women don’t show symptoms, those that do experience a thick discharge that’s green or yellow in colour, pain when urinating, or bleeding between periods. So don’t risk it – visit your health clinic or purchase a private test and, if you’re infected, treat it with the single antibiotic injection and antibiotic tablet that’s prescribed to you.
Genital herpes test
Herpes has no cure. If ever there was an incentive to be upfront with partners and ensure you yourself are protected, this is it. That said, its symptoms can be treated with antiviral medicine. Those affected will often experience small blisters and open sores around the genitals, anus and thighs, plus other hallmark STI symptoms.
Thanks to the national HPV immunisation programme, genital herpes is less prominent today. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the simplex virus (the cause of herpes) remains within your body forever once you’ve caught it.
As with gonorrhoea, pregnant women are at risk of passing the condition to their infants. Fortunately, it can be easily diagnosed with a urine test, which can be found either at your local sexual health clinic or online.
If you find yourself to be infected and don’t feel comfortable speaking face to face with a doctor, head to a website like Frommars.com. There, you can receive an online consultation from a UK-licensed doctor and receive medical treatment, direct to your door, in discreet packaging.
A bacterial infection that’s similar to gonorrhoea, syphilis’ symptoms are varied – ranging from small, painless sores to swollen glands in your neck and crotch. Left untreated, syphilis can affect brain functionality.
Unfortunately, the disease cannot be tested at home. You will need to visit your local sexual health clinic if you believe you have it. The treatment is more extensive than others in this list, involving either an injection of antibiotics or a course that usually lasts 2-4 weeks.
There are approximately 103,800 individuals living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the UK, an estimated 7,500 of which are undiagnosed. For too long, heterosexuals have largely ignored the danger of HIV. It would perhaps shock some people to hear that only 51% of UK-based individuals diagnosed with HIV in 2018 were gay or bisexual.
Found in the bodily fluids of an infected person (blood, semen, genital fluids and breast milk), HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex or sharing needles.
The disease’s legacy alone should be enough to persuade you to seek medical advice as soon as you believe you’ve been exposed to it. But if that isn’t motivation enough, an early diagnosis means that you can start treatment sooner, improving your chances of controlling the virus and reducing the risk of passing it to others. Again, you can visit your local health clinic to get tested or there are more convenient measures you can take in your own home.
How can I protect myself and others from STIs?
Wearing a condom or using other barrier forms of contraception is your best bet in terms of preventing the spread of disease. After that? Full disclosure with your past, present and future partners.
We get it, intimacy isn’t always… well, intimate. But having open conversations about diseases can change lives, so don’t keep diagnoses to yourself.