In 2014, nearly half a million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were diagnosed in England alone, and this figure is by no means falling. So clearly there are some issues with our understanding of how they're passed on.

We asked the sexual health charity Family Planning Association's (FPA) Head of Programmes and Training, Paul Casey, to bust the most common misconceptions about STIs he hears:

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Myth 1: HIV is something only gay men and drug users get

Some people still believe HIV is only a concern for men who have sex with men orpeople who inject drugs. This can mean other groups of people, including women and heterosexual men, are less aware of the risks and importance of regular testing.

But of an estimated 103,700 people living with HIV in the UK as of 2014, 33% were women and 54,000 had acquired the virus through heterosexual sex. As with other infections, HIV does not discriminate against certain types of people. It's really important that people who have HIV are diagnosed early so they can start treatment. If you think, for any reason, you might have been exposed to HIV, get tested ASAP.

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Myth 2: You can't get an STI from oral sex

In general, the risk of getting an STI through oral sex is lower than with vaginal or anal sex, but there IS still a risk. And some infections are actually spread more easily through oral sex, including herpes simplex (the virus which causes genital herpes),gonorrhoea and syphilis.

The best way to help protect yourself during oral sex is to use a male or female condom or a dam (small plastic square) to cover your genital area or anus.

Myth 3: You can tell if someone has an STI

A lot of people associate lumps and bumps, rashes and unpleasant discharge with STIs. But the truth is, often STIs don't have any symptoms, or they might appear weeks or months later. For example, with chlamydia, about 70% of infected womenand 50% of men will not have any obvious signs or symptoms, or they may be so mild they are not noticed. Just because there aren't symptoms, doesn't mean the STI can't be passed on.

Myth 4​: If a partner's STI test is negative, yours will be too

It's great to know that your partner has been cleared for STIs, but it's not enough to rely on their result to know whether you have an infection or not. It could be that you have an STI from a previous or different partner without knowing, and you might not have any obvious signs or symptoms. It's really important to get a check-up yourself.


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