STIs are on the rise among young people but why?

One young person is diagnosed with an STI every four minutes in England [Photo: Getty]
One young person is diagnosed with an STI every four minutes in England [Photo: Getty]

With the Internet at our fingertips, sex education in schools set to become compulsory and the power of social media – you’d think that the nation is pretty clued up on the risk of STIs.

But recent statistics from Public Health England suggest otherwise.

According to the health organisation, a case of chlamydia or gonorrhoea is diagnosed in a young person every four minutes in England. Further findings reveal that over 144,000 of those diagnosed back in 2017 were between the ages of 15 to 24.

In terms of gonorrhoea, there’s been a year-on-year rise in cases and with the sexually transmitted disease growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics, there are fears that it will eventually become untreatable.

So why are STIs on the rise across the UK?

Medical Director of sexual health clinic Brook, Anatole Menon-Johansson, told Yahoo UK: “We are concerned but not surprised by these figures from Public Health England.”

“There are a number of factors that could be contributing to this such as higher rates of infections which increase the likelihood of a young person being exposed to an STI, having multiple sexual partners and lack of access to services (which has been exacerbated due to closures).”

He also notes a lack of education around sexual health and concerns regarding confidentiality contributing to the increase in diagnosis amongst young people.

Why aren’t young people using condoms?

Although we may be more candid when it comes to discussing the birds and the bees with our friends and colleagues, condoms can’t seem to shake their bad rep.

According to a recent study conduced by SKYN Condoms, only 56% of men across the UK regularly practice safe sex. Despite condoms being the only form of contraception proven to prevent STIs on the market, a large majority of young people are embarrassed to use them.

Dr Enam Abood, head doctor at Harley Street Health Centre, told Yahoo UK: “Condoms still carry a reputation of reducing pleasure and I think young people may be pressuring each other to not use them.”

A large majority of young people eschew condoms due to embarrassment and the ‘risk factor’ [Photo: Getty]

She continued, “Risk-taking is also common in this age group where they are testing life and its dangers and sex is commonly coupled with alcohol and drug use.”

Dr Abood also highlights that a large number of young people are primarily concerned about preventing pregnancy therefore don’t believe a condom is necessary when other contraception is being used.

A recent study conducted by Indiana University also revealed another reason why men often turn their noses up at the rubber. According to sexual health expert and leader of the study, Debby Herbenick, a large majority of 83% of men in the US have smaller penises than the standard condom length.

She told The New York Times: “The idea was it [the condom] had to be long enough to fit most men, and excess length could just be rolled.”

As a consequence, common complaints include the problem that condoms often slip off during intercourse while those with larger penises experience discomfort due to the contraception feeling tight.

The social stigma surrounding STIs

Despite a greater conversation on sexually transmitted diseases, there’s still a social stigma attached to clinics with many concerned about confidentiality.

But Dr Abood points out that a large number of young people are not fully informed on the dangers of not having regular check-ups.

Many young people are unaware that STDs like chlamydia, syphilis, HIV and gonorrhoea often don’t cause any symptoms early on,” she revealed.

What are the symptoms of an STI?

Although a large number of sexual transmitted diseases are symptom-less, there are telltale signs to look out for.

According to the NHS, you should be aware of the following:

  • Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus

  • Pain when urinating

  • Lumps or skin growths around the genitals or anus

  • A rash

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding

  • Itchy genitals or anus

  • Blisters and sores around the genitals or anus

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Sex during pregnancy: Why aren’t couples doing it more?