Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise. According to Public Health England’s report: Sexually transmitted infections and chlamydia screening in England, 2012* (the most recent data) there were approximately 450,000 diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) made in England. The figures are similar for Scotland and other parts of the UK.
The most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted diseases were: chlamydia, genital warts, genital herpes and gonorrhoea. Worryingly the number of new cases of gonorrhoea increased by 21%. Trichomoniasis was also up by 6% and genital herpes by 2%. Even cases of syphilis, which is less common, rose by 1% compared to the previous year.
The highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases occurred in heterosexual young people aged between 15 and 24 - in this group sexually transmitted infections have increased considerably in the last decade.
Research shows that younger people are having sex earlier than their parent’s generation and taking more risks. In a report from the NHS Information Centre a fifth of men and one in seven women said they had had sex before their 16th birthday. And although 80% of young women between 15 and 55 in Britain use some form of contraception Britain has amongst the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe.
But it’s not just young people who are at risk. The Public Health England data shows that infections also continue to rise among men who have sex with men.
Older people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are also not immune. In a study published in the medical journal: Student BMJ, new cases of HIV had doubled in the over 50s and cases of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea were also up among 45-64 year olds in the UK, Canada and the USA.
Unless you're totally faithful to one partner - and he or she is totally faithful to you - you are always at some risk.
What are the risks of unsafe sex?
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Venereal diseases such as gonorrhoea
- Other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, pubic lice and viral warts
- HIV - the virus that can cause AIDS
- Cancer of the cervix
- Female infertility due to pelvic infection cause by sex with an infected man
What is safe sex?
Safe sex means using a barrier method of contraception unless you and your partner are in a monogamous relationship. Condoms should be used for all casual sex and every time you have sex with a new partner. Other barrier methods such as the diaphragm or cap do offer some but not much protection against the transmission of infections.
Tips to stay safe
Public Health England advises the following:
- Always use a condom when having sex with casual and new partners. Carry a condom with you ‘just in case’.
- If you are under 25 get screened for chlamydia every year and each time you change sexual partner.
- For men having unprotected casual sex with men (or with a new partner) get screened for HIV annually, and every three months if changing partners regularly.
- Alcohol and drugs can pose a risk to your sexual health. Many people who would normally practise safe sex become pregnant or catch a venereal disease through having unprotected sex while drunk or under the influence of drugs. Being drunk can also make you more vulnerable to sexual assault. Remember you have the right to say ‘no’ even if you have drunk too much.