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Well over half of people have never had an STI test

Quarter of UK adults would only get tested if they had symptoms, so at risk of damage from ‘invisible’ STIs

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

More than half of adults in the UK have never been tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI), and the proportion reaches well over two-thirds among men, a new survey has revealed. It also showed that more than a quarter of UK adults would only go for an STI test if they experienced symptoms, putting themselves at risk of damage from infections that are often symptomless.

Medicine Direct commissioned Censuswide to ask men and women of all ages and from regions right across the UK and in the Republic of Ireland about when they last had an STI test; in the UK survey last month, they had 2,368 responses. This revealed that women are more comfortable than men talking about sexual health and “would even discuss it with their parents” – but a high proportion of men are not getting tested, and only a third say they would recognise the symptoms. It also found that the LGBTQ+ community are more conscious of their sexual health than heterosexual or straight people. The results showed that:

  • 69% of men say they have never been tested for an STI, compared with 50% of women; 62% of heterosexual have never been tested for STIs, compared with 36% of homosexual people and 38% of bisexual people.
  • 32% of men and 32% of women feel they are not at risk from STIs; 33% of heterosexual or straight people said they don’t believe they are at risk, compared with 27% of homosexuals and 31% of bisexuals – but only 23% of men and 30% of women overall, 27% of heterosexual or straight people, 18% of homosexuals and 32% of bisexuals said they practise safe sex.
  • 28% of men, 24% of women, 27% of heterosexuals, 19% of homosexuals and 16% of bisexuals said they’d only get tested for STIs if they experienced symptoms themselves.
  • Just 16% of men, 21% of women, 18% of heterosexuals, 20% of homosexuals and 37% of bisexuals said they would feel comfortable discussing their sexual history with their sexual partner before having sex with them for the first time; 26%, 21%, 24%, 16% and 13% respectively said they would never feel comfortable discussing their sexual history with their partner.
  • 38% of men would seek advice from a GP first if they had any sexual health concerns, compared with 27% of women; for homosexual people the figure was 21% and for bisexuals 19%.

Medicine Direct, a UK online pharmacy company, pointed out that although according to Public Health England there were 422,000 diagnoses of STIs in 2017 in England alone, their research “illustrates a lax approach to regular STI testing” in the UK, with 26% of adults saying they’d only get an STI test if they experienced symptoms. It said that because some STIs, such as Chlamydia, can be largely symptomless and, if left untreated, can lead to reproductive complications and infertility, it wants to highlight the importance of getting regular checks as well as monitoring for symptoms.

Superintendent pharmacist at the company, Hussain Abdeh, urged people to check their sexual health regularly as STIs might not have visible symptoms. He added: “With how easy it is these days to get your sexual health checked – whether by postal tests, sexual health clinics or your GP – we’ve identified a real area of improvement for our sexually active population. … We really hope to help make it normal to check your sexual health regularly and, if in doubt, check it out.”

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