Maybe it’s the ads on TV, social media posts or articles we read in the media, but we’re all that little bit more aware of our health these days.
Most of us have regular health check-ups and go to the doctor when we are ill.
Unfortunately, we don’t always pay attention to our sexual health and often choose to ignore the danger of STIs, cervical cancer and prostate cancer.
“In general, we’re getting better at getting checked for STIs, cervical cancer and prostate cancer, but there is still a large proportion of the population who fail to have regular check-ups,” says sexual health expert Dr. Derek Freedman, who runs a specialist STI practice in Ranelagh, Dublin.
He points out that STI check-ups are particularly important for those who have more than one partner, or who are about to enter into a new relationship.
“I would advise anyone who is starting a new relationship to get checked out,” he says. “The same applies if you have more than one partner, or concurrent partners because there is a higher sexual risk involved.”
“I would always advise people to keep note of their partners,” he says, and their mobile phone numbers. “If you test positive for one of the 28 infections out there, it is essential to inform the people you’ve slept with, as these infections are silent, and people will be unaware until you tell them.”
It is also dangerous trying to make a diagnosis yourself on the Internet, he says, as so many of the sites are unreliable and could lead to unnecessary worry in some cases.
The only way to know whether you have contracted a sexual disease is to have a full STI check –up at a reputable clinic.
“It really is important,” he says. “Usually there are no symptoms whatsoever, so a person may not be aware they have a sexually transmitted disease until they are tested.
“The tests themselves are not enough,” he adds. “You need to be examined by a sexual health expert and be able to talk to someone who can advise on how to proceed.”
The good news is that most sexually transmitted diseases are easily treatable as long as they are detected at an early stage.
This is also important for women who are hoping to get pregnant later in life. “If an infection is left untreated there is the danger it can affect a woman’s fertility,” he says.
It’s equally important for a woman to have regular check-ups for cervical cancer.
“We have an extremely good government funded programme here for cervical cancer called CervicalCheck - Ireland's National Cervical Screening Programme, which provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60,” says Dr. Freedman. “All women should avail of it.
“My only problem with this is that I believe women should be tested from the age of 21 onwards because these days they are sexually active at an earlier age than before. I would advise young women to be pro-active and get checked themselves.
”Men over the age of 50 should also be having regular check-ups for prostate cancer says Dr. Freedman. “This involves a blood test and should be carried out every two to five years,” he adds.
For more information, check out 'Being Tested' by Dr Derek Freedman at www.stdclinics.ie