The STI info you need to know for sexual health week 2022

Today marks the start of Sexual Health Week. Dr Naveen Puri, Associate Clinical Director at Bupa Health Clinics comments on recent Bupa UK research on sexual health based on internal Google search habits July 2021 – June 2022.

Bupa research reveals three quarters of over 55s have never had a sexual health check. Alongside this, our research found increases* in Google searches for STI symptoms:

  • Swollen testicle with pain –  243% Google search increase
  • Green discharge meaning –  200% Google search increase
  • Burning sensation while urinating –  127% Google search increase
  • Painful intercourse 120% – Google search increase
  • Itching in private area male – 83% Google search increase

‘Swollen testicle with pain’

Searches for this term have increased by an alarming 243% from May 2021 to June 2022. Volumes have increased considerably from October 2021 to March 2022.

If you’re suffering with painful or swollen testicles, regardless of whether you’ve ever had unprotected sex, you should always speak to a health professional. Although it’s rare, swollen, painful testicles can be a sign of testicular cancer so you should always visit your GP to check you over.

More commonly, painful or swollen testicles can be caused by an infection, including gonorrhoea or chlamydia. If you’ve ever had unprotected sex, there’s a chance you could have picked up an STI. Some people may find that they suffer with testicle pain and swelling for a short period of time and then it goes away. But, you should still always speak to your GP about your symptoms so they can investigate what caused them.

‘Green discharge meaning’

This keyword has seen a 200% increase in searches from July 2021 to June 2022. Green discharge is more likely to affect females – and isn’t always necessarily a sign of an STI. But, I’d always recommend that you speak to a health professional if you have any concerns over the appearance or odour of your discharge.

Most people with a vagina are likely to get discharge. It’s a normal substance that the vagina produces to keep itself clean and healthy. However, if you have had unprotected sex, a change in the colour, odour, or texture of your discharge can be one of the first warning signs of an infection.

If you notice any such changes, please see a health professional for appropriate testing and treatment.

‘Burning sensation while urinating’

From July 2021 to June 2022, searches for ‘burning sensation while urinating’ have increased by 120%. Huge volumes were seen consistently between August 2021 and January 2022.

There are lots of reasons that you might feel a burning sensation when you pass urine (pee). Whatever the cause, you should always get it investigated by a health professional. Pain when you pee can be caused by urinary tract infections (UTIs), urethritis and prostate conditions. But it can also be a symptom of sexually transmitted infections. These include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis and genital herpes.

The good news is that treatment for most STIs is usually a simple course of antibiotics, antivirals, creams or liquids. It’s important to keep on top of your sexual health to avoid future health complications and passing any infections on to others.

‘Painful intercourse’

Sex should be something that’s safe and enjoyable for everyone. But some problems can lead to painful sex. Painful intercourse can have several causes. These include generalised illness, physical problems around the genitalia, pelvis or abdomen, psychological problems, or infections. Google search volumes suggest more people have been having painful sex in the UK from October 2021. That’s a 127% increase.

Several STIs can lead to pain during sex. So bear this in mind if you’ve ever had sexual contact without using a condom, as it means that you may need a sexual health check. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes, and trichomoniasis can lead to painful sex for both males and females. It can lead to other infections affecting the vagina, for those that have one.

If sex hurts, it’s important to find out what’s causing the pain. A health professional can help you find the right treatment.

‘Itching in private male area’

Itchy genitals are uncomfortable and inconvenient, especially if you’re out in public. Google search volumes show that those with male genital anatomy have been struggling with this issue. Searches for the phrase ‘itching in private male area’ have increased by 83% between summer 2021 and summer 2022.

If you’re feeling itchy down there, it’s best to avoid any sexual contact until you know what’s causing it. Possible causes include irritation from grooming, pubic lice or a fungal infection. Or it could be a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes, or genital warts. An STI check will help identify or rule out any concerns and help put you on the right course of treatment.

Five STI myths busted:

1. All STIs have symptoms – MYTH

Lots of STIs have symptoms, but some can be completely symptomless such as chlamydia. That’s why it’s so important to take ownership of your sexual health and get yourself regularly tested – it’s the only way to know whether you have an infection or whether you may be passing it on to a sexual partner. For example, if left untreated chlamydia can cause pain in the testicles or affect your fertility, this is why sexual health needs to become a priority for people, because if left untreated, infections could have more serious consequences.

2. You can only catch an STI if you have unprotected penetrative sex – MYTH

STIs spread through sexual activity of any kind, that includes vaginally, orally, or anally. You can also catch STIs from genital contact with someone who’s infected, or if you share sex toys with a person who’s infected.

3. You can only get STI tested if you’re single – MYTH

Whether you’re in a committed relationship or not, regular STI testing can help to pick up any infection. For early detection and to prevent further health issues down the line, it’s recommended to get a comprehensive regularly.

4. You can’t cure all STIs – TRUE

Whilst many STIs can be treated with antibiotics, the cause of the infection and the length of time you’ve had it can affect treatment options. If your infection is viral, e.g., from herpes (HSV) or HIV, in many cases it’s possible to manage the infection but you won’t necessarily be fully cured.

Early detection is key – regular testing can help to flag any infections early and get you on a course of treatment sooner.

5. STI tests take ages, are embarrassing and painful – MYTH

There is no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about attending for STI screening; taking control of our sexual health and getting checked should be just as essential as seeing a doctor for any other health concerns you may have. It’s nothing to worry about, is quick and often consists of a blood test, a urine sample or swabs from where you have the infection. If you have no symptoms and are testing to reassure yourself, you can do the relevant swabs on your own.

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