April marks STI Awareness Month, which is the perfect excuse to get clued up on your sexual health knowledge if you aren’t already.
Health experts on E4’s new hit show The Sex Clinic believe that poor knowledge about safe sex is surprisingly common in some young Brits – with 1 in 5 ‘confused’ or completely ‘clueless’ about sexually transmitted infections.
“There are plenty of unhelpful myths out there about what STIs are and how they are transmitted,” explains Anthea Morris, co-founder of Better2Know.co.uk – the world’s largest private provider of sexual health services.
“Many STIs are often symptomless at first and with infections like syphilis and gonorrhoea on the rise it is a shame that one-fifth of 18 to 24-year olds have never had a check-up
Better2Know.co.uk provided the STI tests for The Sex Clinic as well as The Sex Testers, All 4’s most popular on-demand show last year, created by production company Firecracker Films.
In a bid to help young people better understand sexual health issues, Better2Know’s Director Anthea dispels 8 incorrect assumptions made by patients in The Sex Clinic, as well as common myths about the STIs that were tested for in the show:
‘I should wash the inside of my vagina to keep it clean’
Missy from episode three had bacterial vaginosis (BV), most likely because she washed the inside of her vagina. Although not an STI, BV is a common cause of unusual vaginal discharge. The vagina is designed to keep itself clean with the help of natural secretions. Washing the inside can wash away good bacteria that are designed to protect it.
‘I don’t know my STI status, but my partner is clear, so we don’t need to use condoms’
As Rylee’s STI status is unknown, his partner’s sexual health was also at risk. Even if Rylee had no reason to believe that he had an STI, he should remember that many infections are initially symptomless, and people can go for years without realising they have anything.
‘I can’t catch Gonorrhoea from oral sex’
Gonorrhoea is transmitted via vaginal, anal and oral penetration, genital contact and by sharing sex toys. Cases of gonorrhoea in the UK are up 22% since 2016, and the infection is highly contagious and often symptomless
Although treatable with antibiotics, gonorrhoea can lead to painful inflammations, infertility in women, reduced fertility in men, and those with the infection are at an increased risk of other STIs such as HIV
Symptoms can differ between men and women, but when present often
‘Syphilis doesn’t really exist anymore’
There is a common misconception that syphilis has been consigned to the past. Often initially symptomless, syphilis cases have risen 20% rise in the UK since 2016.
The infection is normally treated with antibiotics but if left undiagnosed syphilis can be life-threatening. It is easily transmitted via direct contact with sores, often found around the genitals or anus.
There are three stages to syphilis, with symptoms normally first appearing as sores before leading to many serious potential outcomes – such as life-threatening organ damage, if the infection is left untreated over the long term
‘Only one partner needs to get tested after a threesome involving unprotected sex’
In episode three ‘JJ’ and Patrick explained that they had both previously had sex with the same female. When it came to the consultation, JJ felt that he would not have an STI if Patrick’s tests came back as negative
‘I’ve had Chlamydia before, so I won’t get it again’
Even if a person is treated for chlamydia once they will not be immune to catching it again. The most common bacterial STI in the UK, over half of people who get chlamydia do not experience any symptoms. Although curable with antibiotics, if left untreated chlamydia can permanently damage the sexual organs, leading to infertility in women and reduced fertility in men. Symptoms can differ between men and women, but when present they often include burning, pain during urination and genital discharge.
‘I’m ‘on the pill’ so wearing a condom isn’t necessary’
In episode three of The Sex Clinic, participant Lydia described that she has not used condoms in the past as she felt this is a “guy thing to remember”.
‘I could catch HIV from a toilet seat’
It’s a surprisingly common myth, however, HIV can’t usually survive for long outside of the body. Transmission of the virus is normally via unprotected sex and contact with other fluids such as breast milk and blood.
HIV is often initially symptomless but when present initial symptoms in the first 2-4 weeks are often flu-like. If left untreated, HIV can gradually damage the immune system and lead to AIDS. There is no scientifically proven cure, but HIV positive patients can have a near normal life expectancy if treatment is started early.