Open your eyes to STIs

Cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are increasing. If you have unprotected sex, your health is at risk. Find out what symptoms to look out for and how to stay safe.

In 2011, the Health Protection Agency released figures on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in England for 2010. They showed young people under 25 that the 16 to 24-year-old age group accounts for more than half of all newly diagnosed STIs.

In England, young people aged 16-24 accounted for:

You won't definitely get symptoms

If you have sex without a condom, the odds of catching an STI are quite high. You can’t tell by looking at someone whether they’ve got an STI. These infections don’t always have any symptoms, which means that you might not even know if you've caught something. You then run the risk of not getting treatment and passing the infection on to others.

You can get an STI if you have sex only once

You only need to have unprotected sex once to get an STI or pass one on. So if you’ve only had sex once, you could still be infected. The more sexual partners you have, the more at risk you are. This is true whether you have more than one partner at the same time or at different times.

Where to get tested 

If you think you might have an STI, or are at risk of having one, you can get tested at a sexual health clinic or a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. Some community contraceptive clinics also offer STI testing. Find sexual health services near you. You can also find local clinics by using the FPA clinic finder, or calling THT Direct on 0845 122 1200.

If you’ve started seeing someone new, or you and your partner want to stop using condoms, have a sexual health check.

Symptoms you might notice

If you notice anything different, then contact a clinic straight away so that you can be tested and treated for STIs. You may notice:

  • an unusual discharge
  • pain during sex
  • sores or rashes
  • irregular periods

Even if you don’t have symptoms, you might have an STI if you’ve had unprotected sex. Get yourself checked. The sooner you go, the sooner it can be treated, and the sooner you can stop worrying about it.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in England, and is most common in men and women under 25, accounting for just over 144,000 new cases in 2012.

The National Chlamydia Screening Programme offers chlamydia tests to as many under 25s as possible. These are available at young people's services and some pharmacies.

Most people with chlamydia have no symptoms, so they may not know that they're infected. If left untreated, chlamydia can spread to other parts of the body, which can lead to long-term health problems, such as infertility.

If you’re under 25 and have had sex, you should be offered a test when you visit your GP, contraceptive clinic or other health service. You can get tested in a range of places that are convenient to you. Some places will send you a test to complete at home, which you post back. The test and any treatment you might need is free and confidential.

Your privacy

At the clinic, you can be sure of patient confidentiality. You don’t have to give your real name, but make sure that the clinic can contact you to give you the results of any tests. This can be done by letter, phone or text message, depending on the clinic.

A doctor or a nurse will ask you questions about your relationships and sexual partners, what contraception you use and any relevant medical history. This is to help them work out what tests you need. For more information about getting tested, see visiting an STI clinic.

Getting the right treatment

Most STIs can be cured with antibiotics. Some, such as HIV, have no cure but treatment can be given to stop it from getting worse.

If you test positive for an infection, staff at the clinic will explain your treatment to you and advise you on how to avoid infections in the future. Using a condom properly every time you have sex is the most effective protection against infections. Get tips on using condoms.

If you have an infection you'll need to tell anyone you’ve had sex with in the last six months so that they can be tested too. If you haven’t had sex during this time, let your last sexual partner know. If you don't want to do this, the clinic can usually contact a partner (or ex) for you, without mentioning your name.

Further information

What should I do if I think I've got an STI?

How soon do STI symptoms appear?

What infections can I catch through oral sex?

A responsible romance: getting tested for chlamydia

In this dramatisation, teenage couple Ben and Rosie get tested for sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia.

Media last reviewed: 16/03/2013

Next review due: 16/03/2015

Page last reviewed: 05/10/2013

Next review due: 05/10/2015

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Wet_n_Wild said on 07 November 2010

The only reason STIs are increasing in the figures is because more people are being tested. Chlamydia never use to be tested for in young or old people. It was only picked up when testing for other, more serious, STIs. In addition, the risk of picking up an STI is not evenly spread across race, class, wealth, and location. It would be helpful to have these figures broken down rather than just summarised by age.

Is the advice really to have a check up everytime you stay in a relationship and want a condom-free sex life. Oh, the romance. Why not inform us how long STIs exist before symptons are obvious?

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