As the countdown to Christmas begins, make sure your secret Santa doesn't leave any unwanted 'gifts' in your stocking.
Every December leading UK chemist, Oxford Online Pharmacy (www.oxfordonlinepharmacy.co.uk), registers a spike in sales of STI home testing kits. Here the site's chief pharmacist, Stuart Gale, reminds revelers that prevention really is better than cure:
"There's no doubt that Christmas offers a heady mixture of fun, food and wine - a lethal combination for anyone prone to risk-taking in their sexual behaviour.
"Many people who take risks are often very good at carrying out regular checks to ensure that certain common, sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea can be treated before they cause significant damage. However, this approach is not effective for those sexually transmitted diseases that cannot be cured including HIV and herpes.
"Awareness of STIs reached its peak in the 80s, as a result of all the publicity surrounding HIV, but since then there has been a worrying decline in the safety measures taken by people in relation to their sexual activity.
"Among the younger demographic, risk taking behaviour translates as an increase in 'casual' sex, sex with 'commercial sex workers' and sex with multiple partners. We are also seeing a rise in STIs among older people, out of long-term relationships, who wrongly perceive that this sort of thing only happens to the young.
"The popularity of dating apps has been widely blamed for the rise in STIs but apps, per se, do not make people take risks, they do, however, provide the opportunity, should 'risk taking' be on the agenda.
"Attitudes towards safe sex in modern society are extremely lax and many people have multiple partners without taking the necessary basic precautions, something they should automatically do when engaging in any kind of sexual activity. This includes wearing a condom not only for vaginal and anal sex but also when performing oral sex on a man. For oral sex with a women, an oral dam should be used.
"So the message is clear - have fun but do it safely. Take precautions and if you have exposed yourself to risk, get tested either in a sexual health clinic, at your surgery or even through your online pharmacy, which can be a great option if anonymity is a factor. If you do test positive, treatment should be sought in clinic. Be safe and get tested - most STIs are asymptomatic in the early stages so you don't know who has got one and what they may be giving you this Christmas."
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