Students urged to use a condom and get tested regularly to protect themselves and others from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
There is a very real danger of catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) if having condomless sex this freshers’ week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is warning, as cases of gonorrhoea remain at record levels.
UKHSA is urging all those heading to university to use a condom with any new or casual partners, and to get tested regularly, after gonorrhoea diagnoses rocketed to 82,592 in 2022. This is an increase of more than 50% compared to 2021.
Young people aged 15 to 24 years remain the most likely to be diagnosed with STIs. Last year there were over 400 diagnoses of STIs every day in this age group.
Though STIs are usually easily treated with antibiotics, many can cause serious health issues if left untreated. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), while syphilis can cause serious, irreversible and potentially life-threatening problems with your brain, heart, or nerves.
Many people do not show symptoms which means people often pass on STIs without realising it. Regular testing for STIs and HIV is essential – everyone should have an STI screen, including an HIV test, at least once a year if having condomless sex with new or casual partners.
Dr Katy Sinka, Head of Sexually Transmitted Infections at UKHSA, said:
Starting university can be an exciting time. But it is very important to be aware of the risks of catching STIs from condomless sex. STIs can have serious consequences and there are very high numbers of STIs at the moment – but there are some easy steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection.
Condoms are the best defence against STIs. If you didn’t use one the last time you had sex with a new or casual partner please do get tested even if you are not showing any symptoms, it’s free and confidential.
If you’re a student going to university for the first time or returning for a new year, it’s a good idea to get tested before you start having sex with a new or casual partner.
Laura Domegan, Head of Nursing at Brook, the sexual health and wellbeing charity, said:
The STI stats speak for themselves. It’s never been more important to think about condoms and testing. Condoms are the only method that protect us from STIs so make sure you have some handy and know where to get more.
Brook’s website will help you find where to access free condoms. And if you or your partner don’t like wearing condoms, remember they are available in different shapes, sizes, textures, colours and flavours which can make sex more fun.
And if you have unprotected sex, don’t worry, get tested. Anyone can get an STI, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve had sex or what type of sex you’re having. STIs don’t always have symptoms, so don’t wait for them.
Most areas have a home testing option so you can order a kit online to be posted to you. It’s that easy.
While the increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses will in part be due to increases in testing, the scale of the increase in diagnoses strongly suggests that there is more transmission of STIs within the population.
Gonorrhoea is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and at risk of becoming untreatable in the future, making it vital that people test early and diagnose the infection so that they can prevent passing it on.
Many sexual health services in England now offer free STI self-sampling kits for people who aren’t showing any symptoms or signs of an STI and would prefer a routine check-up in the comfort and privacy of their own home.
If you notice any unusual symptoms, make sure to contact your local sexual health service and get tested.