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STI Awareness and the Importance of Regular Testing

STI Awareness and the Importance of Regular Testing

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) affect millions of individuals every year. Last year, the UK Health Security Agency reported a staggering 401,800 of new STI’s showing a 4.7% increase compared to the previous year. There was a larger proportional increase in new diagnoses of syphilis among heterosexual men and women with a rise of 21.8% of new cases. 

One obstacle in reducing sexually transmitted infections is the stigma and discrimination surrounding these infections. This stigma can often lead individuals to hesitate in visiting their local clinic for sexual health testing. Let’s explore why testing for STIs is important, how stigma can impact on testing for STIs, why it’s important to raise awareness as well as three common STIs. 

Why testing for STIs is important

Testing for STIs is vital in reducing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and our overall sexual wellness for several reasons; 

Early detection and treatment 

Sexual health testing allows for the detection of sexually transmitted infections, which is important for early treatment. Many of these infections can be effectively treated with medication if identified early to prevent further transmission.

Prevention of transmission

Testing for STIs and being aware of our status allows us to make healthier, informed decisions about our sexual health. This includes practising safer sex, using condoms, and if necessary, abstaining from any sexual activity until treatment is completed. 

Safeguarding our health 

Undiagnosed and untreated sexually transmitted infections can lead to serious health complications, including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pain, sexual dysfunction or certain types of cancer. Therefore, regular sexual health testing can help us protect our own health and wellbeing. 

Enhanced pleasure

Testing for STIs not only provides insight in our sexual health but also enhances our enjoyment during sex. Knowing our STI status can relieve worries and tension, allowing us to fully relax during our intimate moments leading to more pleasure and satisfaction. 

How Stigma Impacts on Sexual Health Testing 

Stigma and discrimination can often make it difficult to get tested for sexually transmitted infections which can create obstacles for receiving treatment and support. Stigma can arise from society's attitudes and discussions about STIs, which often involves stereotypes and misinformation. This can make people feel scared, ashamed and isolated, which can delay getting tested and receiving early treatment. 

This stigma can manifest in various ways, including: 

Blame and Judgement

Those with sexually transmitted infections may be unfairly blamed or judged for their infection, leading to feelings of guilt and shame. 

Scared to disclose

Being afraid to tell sexual partners, friends or healthcare providers about sexual health concerns can prevent individuals from testing for STIs and treatment, which could lead to more health problems further along the line. 

Negative experience

Negative attitudes and discriminatory practices within healthcare settings can make it harder for those struggling with their sexual health to get tested and treated for STIs as they may feel unwelcome or embarrassed about discussing their concerns. As a result of delaying sexual health testing, they may miss out on the care they need, also leading to further complications. 

Why it’s important to raise awareness

It’s important to raise awareness about sexually transmitted infections and encourage regular sexual health testing for several reasons;

  • Raising awareness and encouraging regular testing for STIs can help to reduce fear and shame, challenge misconceptions, reduce stigma and create supportive environments for those suffering from sexually transmitted infections
  • Through education and building awareness about STIs, we can empower individuals to make more informed choices about their sexual health, encouraging good condom use and practising safer sex. 
  • Increased awareness leads to more people getting tested earlier, resulting in early detection of sexually transmitted infections, preventing the spread of STIs and reducing the risk of complications. 
  • Prioritising regular sexual health testing helps support good physical, psychological and sexual health, helping people feel more relaxed and confident about their sexual wellbeing. 

3 Common Sexually Transmitted Infections 

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection, with data showing 194,970 new diagnoses in 2023. It’s sometimes known as the silent STI due to not always having symptoms. For those that do have symptoms, they usually include; unusual discharge, pain when passing urine and abdominal pain. Testing for this STI is quick and painless, and is usually tested through either a self-taken swab or a urine test.

To find out more about chlamydia, click here. 

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is another common sexually transmitted infection that is passed on through sexual contact. Data shows a 7.5% increase in new diagnoses in 2023 with 79,268 of new cases being reported. It is also an STI that is asymptomatic, which means it doesn’t always show symptoms. If you do have symptoms of gonorrhoea, they usually include; thin, watery green discharge, pain or burning when passing urine, swelling of the foreskin or bleeding in between periods. Testing for this STI is through a self-taken swab or a urine test.

To find out more about gonorrhoea, click here.

Syphilis

Syphilis is another common STI that is spread through sexual contact. Data shows a 9.4% increase in new diagnoses in 2023. Syphilis progresses through several stages, each stage with its own set of symptoms; early, latent and the later stages, so sometimes it can be difficult to recognise the symptoms. Detection of syphilis is usually done through a blood test, and is usually treated with antibiotics. 

To find out more about syphilis and the various stages this infection goes through, click here

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