Life Health & Wellbeing

Saturday 24 August 2019

'Divorcees are acting just like teenagers and devastating STIs are on the rise' - leading Irish consultant

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

One of the country’s leading doctors on infectious diseases has said that sexually transmitted diseases are continuing to rise in Ireland – even among middle-aged divorcees.

Less than a third of Irish people (27 per cent) are consciously doing something to prevent STIs, according to new research by Durex.

Dr Jack Lambert, Consultant in Infectious Disease and Genitourinary Medicine at The Mater Hospital, said STIs are on the increase in Ireland, among the young and old.

“The issue is that STIs are on the increase, the HIV epidemic is on the increase, and that’s mostly a function of men who have sex with men. So a special message has to go to that population.”

“Syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and genital herpes are on the increase as well. People are having unprotected sex. 48pc have had sex without a condom.”

Lack of education and ignorance about how it doesn't just take penetrative sex to spread these diseases, is causing the increase in Ireland, he said.

“One of the common ways that the youth are catching STIs  - herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia - is by oral sex."

“A lot of people I see in my clinic didn't know that. I have married couples coming in, and one of them shows up with genital herpes, and I ask does your partner have cold sores, and I tell them that if your partner has the cold sore virus and engages in oral sex, then you can get genital herpes. They tell me, ‘I didn't know that’.”

“I think we need to educate all levels of people.”

He added: “Ireland is a new world and lots of people are getting divorces and going into new relationships in their 40s and 50s and this cohort are acting just like the youth. I'm seeing all of the STIs in the older populations as well, those who had given up on their relationships and now they're in new relationships and acting like teenagers.”

Gonorrhoea for example, has increased by over 50 per cent between 2015 and 2016, according to the HSE.

Pregnancy remains the number one reason Irish people reconsider having unprotected sex, according to Durex who recently carried out research as part of its ‘Wrap Up’ campaign.

And despite the rising levels of certain STIs amongst 18–24-year-olds in Ireland, only 37 per cent of those who use condoms admit to using them each and every time.

“In 2004 there was a study done in the Rotunda hospital which found that women who were presenting for antenatal care in 2004, in that population if you were single, and under 25, you had a 15 per cent chance of having chlamydia."

“Here we are 13 years later, more chlamydia is being reported, more herpes, more gonorrhoea, more syphilis. Some of them are in lower risk groups, young adults who are single having multiple sexual partners. There's not adequate education on what STIs you can catch and how.”

“The most common way you can catch syphilis is from oral sex," he said. People think that the only way you can catch syphilis is from penetrative sex. Most of the STIs can be caught from oral genital sex. If your partner has a cold sore virus, they can pass it to you during oral sex.”

“Virgins can have oral sex and get gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes and chlamydia,” he stressed. “Condoms are very important to prevent STIs.”

Dr Lambert added: “The liberal Ireland is single people having multiple sexual partners - many of them are asymptomatic and carrying around STIs and they don't know.”

80 per cent of women who are carrying chlamydia carry no symptoms, and can eventually be rendered infertile.

“The reality is you could have chlamydia as a woman, it can be in your pelvis but you could be asymptomatic, and it can cause scarring of the tubes, so that ten years from now when you want to have a baby, all of a sudden you find out you had tube scarring and you can’t have a baby.”

“I have a personal friend who was a monogamous woman and had one incident of chlamydia. 15 years later, she's infertile, and ended up spending hundreds of thousands on IVF, and then adopting children from Eastern Europe. They had emotional and financial issues.”

“It is devastating and that's just one personal experience.”

“I have lots of women who've had an episode of genital herpes and the fear of passing it on has resulted in them not going into a new relationship. You’ve got the issue of disclosing that you've got herpes to the new partner, and if a baby gets herpes it’s devastating and can kill the baby.”

“STIs have their consequences immediately, and long term,” he added.

Robust sex education programmes in all schools across Irleand are essential, he said.

“There has to be a more robust sex education system in schools. There is a curriculum, but it's opt-in opt-out and the parents and school can decided if they don't want their kids to be taught.”

“That's not acceptable. Kids needs to know what puts them at risk.”

“There have to be more campaigns on responsible social behaviours.”

He added: “Condoms are the only essential proven way of protecting against pregnancy and STIs, but condoms only work if they’re used 100pc of the time.”

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