After two years of intimate gatherings and minimal travel opportunities, 2022 is off to a great start with the promising outlook of HOLIDAYS this year! With potential holiday romances on the horizon with COVID booster vaccines being front and centre of your dating profiles, let’s remind ourselves about the importance of sexual health.
Sexual health is an integral part of an individual’s health and can impact the health of society. It is an umbrella term encompassing contraception, safe sex practices, and the negative consequences of unprotected sexual activity. It also covers sexuality, sexual expression and gender identity issues. At IMC, we aim to offer a positive approach towards helping our patients manage this aspect of their health.
So who may be at risk?
Having multiple sexual partners or being with a high-risk partner, engaging in unprotected intercourse, or being under the influence of alcohol/ drugs can increase the risk of contracting an STI. Vulnerable groups may include; young adults, intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men, women who have sex with women, and sex workers are other at-risk groups.
STIs are infections spread mainly by sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral sex), however some can be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding.
There may be a lack of awareness among people and health professionals concerning sexual health. In addition, we often see a stigma attached to this area in certain cultures resulting in a delay in asking for help.
Free and confidential walk-in services are more likely to attract patients (especially young people) seeking contraception advice and testing/ treatment for STIs, however the cost may also deter high out-of-pocket expenses for the above services.
We aim to dispel myths around contraception, educate our patients on what is available in Singapore and help them choose the best way forward. Advice about safe sexual practices and screening for STIs is often discussed during health screening appointments and developmental checks for adolescents. In this article, our focus is on STIs with information on preventing, screening, and treating them if they occur.
Why is sexual health an essential part of our overall health?
A lack of sexual health awareness can have the following consequences:
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea may cause pelvic infection, pain and infertility.
- Stigmatisation after developing an STI.
- Effects on self-esteem and vulnerability to sexual violence.
- Cancer is linked to STIs such as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Hepatitis B and C.
- Infected mothers may transmit some infections leading to illness in the baby.
- Sexual dysfunction
- Unintended pregnancy and abortion.
What are some of the most common infections?
The most common infections worldwide are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis and Trichomoniasis. Early diagnosis is the key to preventing damage to the reproductive tract.
Viruses such as Hepatitis B, Herpes simplex virus, HIV and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are also transmitted sexually. These are not curable, but they are modifiable with antiviral medication. Hence prevention is critical. HPV infection is associated with cervical cancer and causes over 311,000 cervical cancer deaths each year. Hepatitis B is a significant cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer globally.
How will you know if you have an STI?
People may experience few symptoms, but they can have serious consequences. Symptoms in women may include vaginal discharge, painful urination, ulcers, rashes, or growths in the genital area. However, infection in the throat and the rectum may have no symptoms.
Sexually transmitted infections in men can present with pain during the passage of urine, urethral discharge, or rectal pain due to involvement of the prostate gland.
Hepatitis A, B, and C cause liver inflammation, while HIV infection causes a host of symptoms due to weakening the immune system.
Safe sexual practices to prevent STIs
Practicing safe sexual contact provides oneself and their sexual partner against sexually transmissible infections (STI’s) and unplanned pregnancy. Barrier methods, such as condoms are the best way to limit risks.
In addition, ensuring vaccination against some significant sexually transmitted infections such as Hepatitis B and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is vital in our fight against these diseases and the severe complications they can cause. For example, some evidence suggests that the Meningitis B vaccine currently offered to children in some countries may protect against gonorrhea.
At IMC, we aim to offer a convenient setup for our patients to come in to discuss if they are concerned about their sexual health. Screening for most STIs can be performed in primary care with treatment available for some of them on site. We can also administer the various recommended vaccinations.