Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are often associated with young, irresponsible people who have lots of different partners. However, anyone who has been sexually active can be affected by an STI. It is important to be aware of the signs and to get yourself tested if there’s a chance that you have an STI. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, it is still a good idea to have STI screening if you’ve been sexually active.
How Common Are STIs?
STIs are very common, so it is important to be aware of the risks.
- More than 30 different viruses, bacteria and parasites can be transmitted sexually
- Over 1 million people are infected with an STI every day, worldwide
- Approximately 400,000 people are diagnosed with STIs in the UK every year
Who is at Risk of STIs?
Anyone who is having sexual contact with another person could catch an STI, even if they are not having sex. STIs can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation.
- Young people are more likely to be diagnosed with an STI, with 15-24 year olds accounting for 62% of chlamydia cases and 52% of gonorrhoea cases.
- Although STIs are common in both men and women, they are most common in younger women. Women are more vulnerable to STIs as they are more likely to be infected when having sex with a man and the chances of serious complications is higher if they are infected.
- Some STIs such as syphilis and gonorrhoea are more common in men, but women have the highest overall rates of STIs due to the high prevalence of chlamydia. This is partly because more young women are being screened for chlamydia.
- Men who have sex with men are also more likely to be affected because STIs including HIV are more common in this group and the risk of transmission is higher.
- London has the highest rate or STI infection in the UK, with 1 in 4 cases being diagnosed in the capital.
Although most STIs are transmitted during sexual activities, some can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
How Can You Prevent STIs?
Since STIs are very common and can affect anyone, it is important to take the following steps to protect yourself and your partner:
- Using a condom can stop many STIs from spreading, including HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea. However, they cannot prevent STIs such as genital warts or herpes unless the affected part of the skin is covered.
- Be aware of the signs of STIs and avoid having any sexual contact if you or your partner have unusual discharge, sores or other symptoms.
- Get tested if you think that you might have an STI. Most STIs can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Make sure that you inform your partners if you are diagnosed with an STI so they can get tested too.
- Get screened for STIs even if you don’t have symptoms, especially if you’re at higher risk due to your lifestyle or circumstances. Ideally, you should be screened for STIs as often as you change partners.