Cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhoea and chlamydia, are rising in sexually active adults in Scotland.  

In this blog, Dr Kirsty Roy, Consultant in Health Protection at Public Health Scotland, emphasises the importance of having safer sex. 

STIs are on the rise across Scotland, which means it’s really important that people understand how to reduce their risk by having safer sex.  

Since 2019, cases of gonorrhoea infections among sexually active people under 25 years of age have doubled, meaning almost 1 in 200 of this group had gonorrhoea last year. 

We’re also starting to see an increase in reported cases of chlamydia, the most common STI in Scotland, after a reduction was noted during the pandemic (most likely due to the restrictions in place at the time). 

Everyone is entitled to have safe and healthy sexual relationships and it’s important to keep yourself and your sexual partner safe from STIs.  

STIs are passed on by having unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex, including sharing sex toys. The best way to reduce the risk of catching or spreading STIs is to always use a condom, correctly and consistently, whenever you have any type of sex with a new or casual partner.  

Condoms are the best line of defence against STIs and are available for free in Scotland from sexual health clinics, as well as some service providers, GP practices and pharmacies. 

It can feel embarrassing to ask someone else for condoms but remember the person providing free condoms is doing so because they want to help you and your partner keep safe. 

If you do get an STI following sex, it’s important that it’s picked up early and treated promptly to prevent long-term health problems developing, like pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. It’s also important to stop it from passing on to others. 

Common symptoms to be aware of include having unusual discharge, pain passing urine or pelvic or penile pain during sex. If you experience any of these, you should book a simple, painless and confidential test at your local sexual health service. 

If you test positive, many STIs are easily treated with antibiotics. 

If you feel able to tell your partner about a positive test, it’s a good idea to encourage them to get tested as well. You should avoid having sex until both you and your partner have been treated. 

Not all people experience symptoms and so may be unaware they have an infection. Therefore, if you’ve had unprotected (condomless) sex with a new partner, you should also book a test. 

To help raise awareness of the rise in STIs across Scotland, and ensure people know how to keep themselves and their partners safe, a national safer sex campaign has been launched this week by PHS in collaboration with NHS Boards, NHS 24 and third sector agencies.  

The campaign highlights where you can get trusted sexual health information, access to free condoms, and information on how to book at test at your local sexual health service online at NHS Inform. 

STIs may be on the rise but having safer sex by using a condom, being aware of signs and symptoms, and knowing when to get a test will all help to ensure you reduce you and your partner’s risk. 

Last updated: 27 July 2023