Busting 5 of the common myths about sexually transmitted infections

We at Medical Specialists Pharmacy are strong advocates for the promotion of good sexual health and awareness. In fact, in 2010 we teamed up with Skins Condoms to raise awareness for World AIDS day by giving away free condoms for a whole week to any men who obtained erectile dysfunction medication. We also did the same the following year, this time joining forces with Mates Condoms.

You may have heard whisperings or jokes about the subject matter, but what is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and who can get them? The answer is anyone can. They are diseases passed from one person to another from the result of unprotected sex, i.e. the failure to use a condom. In particularly, it is the under-25s who most commonly succumb to STIs but the stark truth is that anybody who is sexually active is at risk of them, without the necessary precautions.

The most common STI in the UK remains as chlamydia, closely followed by genital warts. It is believed that approximately seven in 10 infected women and half of infected men will not show any clear symptoms of having chlamydia, and the clear message remains that you should always practice safe sex and attend regular health checks if you are concerned.

Some of the problems for the increasing number of cases of STIs in Britain could be attributed to the lack of understanding about the dangerous health risks involved in unprotected sex, especially when with multiple partners. We believe more needs to be done at school-level to properly educate children about the risks involved. For some parents though, it is a sensitive subject and one that many shy away from. Currently in England and Wales, sex education is not a compulsory learning subject and parents can forbid their children from being involved in such lessons. In evidence that supports Medical Specialists’ belief that the government needs to improve on this area urgently, a 2008 study from YouGov for Channel 4, found that around three in ten teenagers complained of requiring more sex and relationship education.

To help educate people on STIs, we will analyse some of the most common preconceptions about STIs and the truth about them:

. You cannot get an STI from oral sex

MYTH! Perhaps worryingly, during oral sex both you and the other person engaging in the sexual activity are both at risk from catching the other person’s infection, if either of you have one. A common problem in this regard is if your partner has a cold sore (oral herpes) and then performs oral sex on you, you are at high risk of herpes in your genital area (genital herpes).

. You can get an STI from a toilet seat

MYTH! STIs are generally not passed on through coming into contact with a toilet seat, and the organisms do not survive for very long outside of the body. However, pubic lice can survive away from the body for roughly 24 hours, so sitting on a contaminated toilet seat puts you at a slight risk of that, but it is still quite unlikely.

. If there are no symptoms, there is no STI

MYTH! You might be alarmed to learn that a great number of STIs are ‘silent’ and have no obvious symptoms at all. On other occasions they are relatively mild to the point whereby more urgent problems requiring attention could be mistaken for something less serious. For instance, there are still a lot of people who wrongly think they are suffering from a bladder infection, when it is actually gonorrhoea they have.

. You cannot contract an STI if your partner is a virgin

MYTH! The aforementioned claim depends entirely on what the person’s definition of virgin is. If this means they have engaged in absolutely no sexual activity at all, then yes the statement is valid. However, maybe a person hasn’t had vaginal sex but they still may have had oral sex, and thus putting themselves at risk of getting an STI. The best thing to do is speak to your partner beforehand. It is worth remembering also that infections such as herpes can be passed from skin-to-skin contact and no penetration has to occur.

. Oral contraceptive pills protect against STIs

MYTH! The purpose of oral contraception pills are in the name; Contraception. Their primary purpose is to stop the woman from becoming pregnant. However, they are still many young girls in the UK who hold onto the belief that these pills can miraculously help to stop them from contracting an STI. Unfortunately, they are sorely mistaken. Condoms remain as being the most effective tool for a barrier against picking up infection.

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