It may be a subject that we shy away from but as England has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Western Europe, we need to seriously talk about sex.
In fact this year’s Sexual Health Week, week commencing September 12, encourages us to do just that as it aims to promote awareness about STIs, how they are transmitted and also to address some of the more common myths and misconceptions about them.
The latest stats show there were more than 435,000 STI diagnoses in England in 2015 alone and the fear is that we may have forgotten the safe sex message as the disease rates are on the rise. In Wales, reports of new diagnoses of chlamydia, herpes, LGV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C have been increasing for the last two years.
Back to basics
Alarmingly, in some patient groups the number of cases of syphilis have increased by 76 per cent in three years, while gonorrhoea cases have risen by 53 per cent. Even more worryingly, there appears to be evidence of some drug-resistance that can make some STIs more difficult to treat.
The Family Planning Association, which runs sexual health week, says we need to go back to basics and I agree.
They fear that although lots of young people learn about STIs at school, the message isn’t getting through and this appears to be borne out in the latest statistics.
And, it’s not just young people at risk of STIs as diagnoses among older age groups have also been increasing in recent years.
STIs are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital contact, which is why it is so important that we spread the message of using condoms and other barriers methods when we’re going to be intimate.
You can be tested for STIs at a sexual health clinic, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or GP surgery and you can also buy reliable kits online if you think you may have been infected and do not want to see a doctor for some reason.
There are different types of STIs and some, if caught early, are easy to treat with antibiotics. Chlamydia is the most common STI in England and can be treated with antibiotics.
In many instances, STIs don’t give their sufferers symptoms, so if you think you may be at risk, for example if you’ve had unprotected sex, then it’s a good idea to be tested.
Sexual health precautions
It may be a difficult subject but it is important that we do talk about sex and particularly with teenagers so they are aware of the risks and what precautions they can take to protect their sexual health.
Several of the STIs can be treated with antibiotics but many have no cures, including genital herpes and HIV. There can be far reaching health implications with some STIs, especially if left undiagnosed and untreated.
You can find out more about STIs on the NHS Choices website and if you have specific questions then speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and member of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service team.