Let's talk about sex - why we need to be up front with teenagers about STIs

Dr Alex says we need to talk about sex, particularly with teenagers, so they don't catch STIs.
Dr Alex says we need to talk about sex, particularly with teenagers, so they don't catch STIs.

It may be a subject we shy away from, but as we have one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Western Europe, we need to seriously talk about sex.

Alarmingly, in some patient groups the number of cases of syphilis have increased by 76 per cent in three years, while gonorrhoea cases have risen by 53 per cent.

Even more worryingly, there appears to be evidence of some drug-resistance that can make some STIs more difficult to treat.

The Family Planning Association, which runs Sexual Health Week, says we need to go back to basics - and I agree.

They fear that although lots of young people learn about STIs at school, the message isn’t getting through, and this appears to be borne out in the latest statistics.

And, it's not just young people at risk of STIs, as diagnoses among older age groups have also been increasing in recent years.

STIs are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital contact, which is why it is so important that we spread the message of using condoms and other barriers methods when we’re going to be intimate.

You can be tested for STIs at a sexual health clinic, genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic or GP surgery, and you can also buy reliable kits online if you think you may have been infected and do not want to see a doctor for some reason.

There are different types of STIs and some, if caught early, are easy to treat with antibiotics.

Chlamydia is the most common STI in England and can be treated with antibiotics.

In many instances, STIs don’t give their sufferers symptoms, so if you think you may be at risk - for example, if you’ve had unprotected sex - then it’s a good idea to be tested.

It may be a difficult subject, but it is important that we do talk about sex, particularly with teenagers so they are aware of the risks and what precautions they can take to protect their sexual health.

Several of the STIs can be treated with antibiotics, but many have no cures, including genital herpes and HIV.

There can be far-reaching health implications with some STIs, especially if left undiagnosed and untreated.

You can find out more about STIs on the NHS Choices website and if you have specific questions then speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic.

* Dr. Alexandra Phelan is a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions.