In 2017, there were 422,147 new STI diagnoses in England alone. Within those diagnoses, 2017 saw a 20% increase in syphilis, and a 22% increase in gonorrhoea, as well as over 126,000 chlamydia diagnoses being made out of the 1.3million chlamydia tests that took place. The largest group effected by STIs according to the stats were aged between 15 and 24, so why is the most ‘woke’ of generations falling prey to sexually transmitted diseases?
It’s very easy to blame the increasingly normalised hook-up culture. It’s fun for those who want to be a part of it, it’s perpetuated in films, TV shows, and within social circles thanks to the amount of dating apps that young people are using in order to meet new people. Of course, that’s great, because why shouldn’t young people - or people of any age, come to that - feel liberated and comfortable in expressing themselves sexually with whoever they choose. But the downside to it, is that as the average number of sexual partners go up, the number of people getting screened for sexually transmitted infections are going down. In fact, chlamydia screenings alone have dropped by 61% since 2015.
It makes you wonder why, if engaging in sexual activity with a new partner (or partners), some people wouldn’t want to regularly get screened for any infections that may have been picked up along the way. Surely it’s no different to getting a regular check-up at the dentist, or an extension of self care and looking after your body? But to many, there’s still such a stigma around sex, and subsequently, sexual health, that people avoid getting tested. A lot of it comes down to education too, with many young people still believing that all STIs carry visible symptoms that, without them, mean that they’re squeaky clean. A lot think that using various contraceptives can make you completely safe from all things sexually transmitted. It’s clear that there’s a lot to learn for plenty of young people, most of whom went through years of PSHE (Physical, Social, Health and Economic education) at school, including sex education, yet still don’t understand the importance of keeping an eye on their sexual health.
An even more dangerous aspect of it all are people who lie about being screened. After a conversation with some friends, it’s horrifying to hear how even after an extensive period of being with a partner, they’re just finding out that their partner had lied about being tested - just so they could get laid quicker. It’s scary to believe that there are people out there who value sexual pleasure above sexual health and respect for their prospective partner, and it happens a lot more than people care to admit. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all of these people have passed on STIs, but it doesn’t mean that all of these people have been clear of them, either. Lying to a partner (whether they be a one-off or a long-term one) in order to take things to the next level quicker is not only a deception on your part, but a really fucking irresponsible thing to do.
So what do we do now? Here are a few tips that can ensure that your sexual health is maintained a priority:
If you’re hooking up with someone for the first time, be sure to use contraception for safeguarding both yourself and the person you’re bumping uglies with. Additionally, if you know that you currently have a sexually transmitted infection of any kind, think about the other person and rather than potentially passing it on, get yourself the treatment you need and revisit your dalliance at a future date.
Be open about your sexual history. I’m not saying compile a list of who you’ve done what with, but if you’ve not been tested recently, tell the other person. And if they ask you upfront if you’ve been screened, don’t lie about it. Be as forthcoming as you possibly can, and they’ll respect you for it.
Pop yourself down to your nearest GUM clinic and get yourself tested regularly, preferably between partners to keep on track. It’s easier to know you were clear before Ted than before Ted, Kate, Robert, Leslie and Charlie. It also helps for, if you need to, letting your previous partner(s) know if they’ve potentially been infected by an STI that you were - then albeit unknowingly - carrying.
If you’re in a new relationship, take responsibility for your sexual health from the get go. If you’re embarrassed or [insert any other reason you’d put off getting screened], visit a clinic together and get tested at the same time so you can be each other’s moral support. Alternatively, there are loads of councils across the UK that offer at-home screening kits that can test for chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhoea and HIV, which you can send back off to the lab and receive results via text in just a few days.
Whether you’re worried, embarrassed, ashamed, or whatever else you might be feeling about getting checked, recognise that it’s your duty of care, not only to yourself, but to others. Being responsible and doing the right thing doesn’t ruin the fun, regardless of what people might say. There’s no shame in safe sex — enjoy yourself!