We’ve come a long way over the last few hundred years when it comes to sexual health, but new findings suggest there’s still a lot of work to be done. Online pharmacy, Medicine Direct, recently found shocking figures that suggest the UK has a poor relationship with sexual health best practices.
The findings came as part of a survey of over 2,300 adults in the UK, intending to uncover just how often adults get tested, the reasons behind their test frequency and their attitudes towards STIs as a whole. Medicine Direct’s research reveals a worrying lack of drive to get tested after sexual encounters and suggests a misunderstanding of the issues STIs can create for adults of both sexes.
The most disturbing result is that almost three in five adults (58%) in the UK have never had an STI test. Despite some of these respondents likely being less sexually active than others, this does represent a striking proportion of the UK’s population, and potentially hundreds if not thousands of undiagnosed cases. On top of the percentage that have never been tested, a further 12% haven’t taken an STI test in over five years.
This represents a massive 70% of adults essentially ‘flying blind’. Not only is this a massive issue for potentially spreading infections further, but it also suggests many are at a big risk of causing permanent damage to their body.
STIs can sometimes be symptomless and, if left untreated for a long time, can cause infertility and other complications, as well as permanent or long-term damage to the reproductive system.
Conditions such as chlamydia, for example, can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. This can lead to all sorts of difficulties – from getting pregnant to the serious issue of ectopic pregnancy – where an egg that’s been fertilised implants itself in an area outside of the womb, such as in a fallopian tube.
Medicine Direct’s survey was launched in part to help raise more awareness of sexual health issues as well as to move towards normalising better sexual health testing.
According to their findings, the source of the poor awareness or importance placed on STI testing lays partly in education.
A full third of respondents (33%) said they never received education about STIs whilst at school. This represents a striking amount of the population with no formal education on how to look after their sexual health and little guidance on the potential impacts STIs can have.
A further 20% stated that they found their education about STIs to be ‘poor’ or ‘awful’, addressing the need for an increased focus on positive sexual health routines in sex education.
It’s a small percentage, but a worrying 2% thought that STIs were a complete myth. Despite the small percentage, this could represent tens of thousands of people simply not believing STIs exist, let alone the risk they can pose.
A startling 26% of respondents stated they would only get an STI test if they actually experienced symptoms. As stated before, this is incredibly problematic given that some of the most common STIs are largely symptomless. Compounding this issue is the further 10% of adults that would only get an STI test if their sexual partner told them they had an STI.
Openly discussing STIs is clearly still a taboo subject, and this can be outlined as one of the key causes of the general poor approach to STIs the UK appears to display. 23% of Medicine Direct’s respondents said they would never feel comfortable discussing their sexual history. A further 5% would only speak with their sexual partner about their sexual history after sleeping together for the first time.
It’s clear that sexual education needs to place better focus on STIs going forward. Raising awareness not only of how widespread and easy to catch many STIs are, but also the potential long-term impacts they can have on health is of paramount importance. Raising awareness can also go a long way to reducing the taboo surrounding STIs, which is in part responsible for the reluctance to talk openly about sexual history.