WHEN Geeta Vaiwala broke up with her boyfriend, she thought he was gone from her life forever.
But not long after they broke up, he suddenly called her, urging her to take an STI test.
The 45-year-old from Manchester said: ‘I didn’t expect that a woman my age could have an STI.
“I took birth control pills and was more worried about not getting pregnant.
“Looking back, I had some issues like abdominal pain that I ignored at the start of menopause.
“I went to a clinic and while I was waiting for the results, I started thinking about the worst.
“I also feel extremely ashamed as a middle-aged mother with a good job.”
The property manager and mother of one Geeta has been diagnosed with chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the UK.
If caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics.
If left untreated, it can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease and cause ectopic pregnancy and even infertility.
“I didn’t know much about it nor the symptoms, I wish I had learned more,” Geeta said.
“I would never have been tested without that call.”
Nearly 40 years on from the infamous government-produced Aids tombstone ad, public awareness of safe sex should be greater than ever.
But since the pandemic ended, the number of STI infections has increased.
The UK’s Health Security Agency warned in March that gonorrhea diagnoses had increased by a fifth in 2019, when the previous highest number was recorded.
Syphilis also increased by 8% – a trend that began before the pandemic.
According to a report by the Local Government Association, the organization that runs sexual health services, changes in sexual mixing over the past ten years have been a factor.
The increased use of hook-up apps may be one reason many women are taking greater risks sexually.
The number of STIs contracted by people over 65 has increased by a fifth, and the most recent government data shows the prevalence of gonorrhea among women aged 35 to 44 in the UK is 22. over 100,000 in 2017 but up to 31.4 per 100,000 in 2021.
Rates among women aged 45 to 64 also increased, from 5.6 to 6.1 per 100,000.
Syphilis, although rarer in women than in men, has also been on the rise, with only 106 cases in women aged 34 to 64 in 2017, compared with 188 cases in 2021.
Chlamydia was on the rise in both age groups.
I went to a clinic and felt extremely embarrassed as a middle-aged mother.
Professor Claudia Estcourt, of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said: “Now that we are living longer, the proportion of years we are sexually active is increasing.
“People of an older age may start dating again after ending a long-term relationship but may not have a safe sex message for many years.
“And if women are no longer worried about getting pregnant, contraception may not be their priority.”
Francesca Baker, 36, PR and copywriter from Mill Hill, North London, only found out she was infected with the human papillomavirus by a smear test in March 2021.
Called HPV, this group of viruses can lead to genital warts and cervical cancer.
Nine out of ten cases, and like Francesca’s, most resolve on their own within two years without treatment – but red signs include unusual bleeding or pain during sex.
Francesca said: “I only got tested for STIs once when my ex-boyfriend cheated on me.
“I’m usually in long-term relationships so it’s not something I think I need to do.
“When I received the letter after a routine smear test, I was worried, wondering if I had cancer.”
Despite talking openly about sex with friends, Francesca says there is still a stigma against sexually transmitted diseases.
She added: “I have not discussed this with anyone but my fiancé Andy and my mother.
I was shocked by some of the comments I had heard from other health professionals about HIV.
“Fortunately Andy understood.
“We need to be more open on this topic.”
Other sexually transmitted diseases can have some life-changing consequences.
Mental health nurse Emma McAnally takes life-saving drugs daily after being diagnosed with HIV in 2016.
Emma, 34, who lives in Glasgow with her 4-year-old son Finlay, was tested after developing persistent flu-like symptoms and genital herpes.
She said: “I was shocked when they told me.
“I came to believe that this disease didn’t really affect my demographic – the average woman.
“I faced a lot of stigma. I even contemplated suicide.
“There are friends who avoid me and I feel very lonely.
“Working in nursing, I dare not tell my colleagues, because I am shocked by some of the ignorant comments I have heard from other HIV experts.”
Emma feared the illness would make it impossible for her to have children, but was relieved to know that was not the case.
“Even when I was pregnant with a boy, one midwife told me she didn’t think I should breastfeed, even though it was completely safe,” she says.
Around a third of people living with HIV in the UK are women.
But they are more likely to be diagnosed late due to their reluctance to get tested, which means poorer long-term outcomes.
Modern medicine means that HIV is no longer a death sentence if caught early.
Emma is currently in a relationship and expecting a second child.
The medicine she was taking meant the virus could not be passed on to her baby.
“I accepted a future without love until I met Paul at a walking group,” she says.
“We were friends for a long time before we started dating, and I knew I had to tell him before too long, because I didn’t want to keep it a secret.
“Luckily, he just took my hand and said, ‘It won’t change anything.
“The important people don’t care and the people who do care don’t matter.’”
According to a survey by Bupa Health Clinics, nearly 3 in 10 people do not ask about their partner’s sexual health before having sex.
I only got tested for STIs once, when my ex-boyfriend cheated on me.
the baker Francesca
And more than a third would be embarrassed to talk to a health professional about STI symptoms.
“Don’t belittle your sexual health or think you’re too old to be diagnosed with an STI,” says Emma.
“No matter how much you trust your partner, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Self-sampling kits for HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia are available on the NHS, while companies like iPlaySafe offer paid at-home testing kits that cover both hepatitis B and C.
Results are sent discreetly through an app.
Georgia co-founders Di Mattos and Bianca Dunne wanted iPlaySafe to make STI testing more accessible and less awkward.
They believe it should be part of a woman’s health routine, such as going to the dentist.
Bianca, an NHS nurse, said: “There should be no stigma, especially since most sexually transmitted diseases are curable.
“Prevention is key but we also need to normalize transmission.
“Most people who have sex will, at some stage, get a disease.”
She says the increase in sexual encounters with strangers through dating apps has discouraged honest conversations.
health care habits
Bianca explains: “Habitual sex partners don’t feel obligated to share their sexual health because they’re not at that level of intimacy.
“Women need to foster that conversation, because they are the ones most at risk.”
Biologically, women are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases because the vaginal surface is more susceptible to discharge.
Professor Estcourt adds: “Don’t count on chances — use condoms when you have a new sex partner and if you have symptoms such as abnormal vaginal discharge, unusual vaginal bleeding, area pain. pelvic pain or sores in the genital area, it’s time to get checked out. .”
After testing, Geeta was able to clear the chlamydia infection with a course of antibiotics.
Now she reminds her friends to get tested regularly.
She said: “I was completely open about it and told my 20-year-old daughter that I had an STI.
“And when I met my current boyfriend, I was honest about my sexual health history.
“There is a lot of shame around women when it comes to STIs.
“It needs to stop.”