Sexually Transmitted Infections

The rise in Sexually Transmitted Infections..

Ireland has seen a big increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in recent years. The trend is related in part to the economic boom, but also the fact that we have a young, very active population. In addition, because Ireland has had a very mixed attitude to sex education, attempts to provide clear facts to young people have been the subject of repeated controversy and some resistance.

A few years ago, the Department of Health launched a national awareness campaign, 'Think Twice Every Time'. Its aims? To educate and inform 18-35 year-olds about their relationships and their sexuality. One of the reasons for the campaign was the rise in the incidence of STIs.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Health Minister, Micheal Martin, said that the Government was setting out to achieve a major attitude and behaviour change.

"You can't run a fast campaign, toss out a bundle of leaflets and hey presto, people suddenly manage their sexuality differently", he said at the time.

Campaign failure

Of course, such a campaign needs to be carried out in a slow, measured and comprehensive manner. Unfortunately this did not happen - funding for the project was discontinued after a year in operation. Many aspects of the campaign, including a website, never saw the light of day and today, the incidence of STIs here continues to rise. It is a symptom of the lack of vision and understanding by some health authorities to serious issues. But it also points to the fact that many people are not be cautious in their sexual lives.

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According to a recent report from the Department of Health, the number of cases of certain STIs, including chlamydia and gonorrhoea, have soared. The figures, covering 2000, reveal that of the 14 notifiable STIs in Ireland, ten had shown increases in the number of cases since 1999. These include:

-Ano-genital warts: up from 3,049 cases in 1999 to 3,735 in 2000.

-Chlamydia: up from 869 to 1,343.

-Gonorrhoea: up from 175 to 290.

-Infectious hepatitis B: up from 2 to 15.

-Non-specific urethritis: up from 1,265 to 1,726.

-Syphilis: up from 6 to 46.

While the messages about safe sex have been heeded much more by homosexuals, with the threat of HIV-AIDS, heterosexuals seem more complacent. The number of new cases of HIV rose by 22% in 2002, compared with the previous year.


More up-to-date figures from the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) show that the rise in STIs is a steady trend.

According to Dr Sheila Martin, medical director of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), Ireland has a very young population and a very sexually active one too. However this, she said, did not mean that the rise in STIs can be blamed only on young people.

"The increase in STIs is right across the board, so you cannot attribute this rise just to teenagers", she told

Hit and miss

However Dr Martin believes that education is the key to reducing the incidence of STIs and that better information must be provided in schools. It is an issue that the IFPA has been pursuing for some time. The organisation believes that Ireland's approach to sex education has so far been a 'hit and miss' affair, with the result that many young people reach adulthood without a proper understanding of how their body works.

A recent study of teenagers in Cork found that the risk of pregnancy is typically regarded as greater than the risk of contracting an STI. Both STIs and pregnancy were generally referred to as risks for others, not for the teenagers themselves.

Another study of teenagers in the Tallaght area of Dublin found that around 50 per cent of those who request emergency contraception, have had unprotected sex, while a further 45 per cent believe that their condoms have failed.

Book launch controversy

In an attempt to tackle this issue, the IFPA, in conjunction with the North Eastern Health Board, planned to launch a serious of sex education booklets recently. But following complaints from a number of people, including former Taoiseach, John Bruton, the launch was postponed by the health board - a move which was heavily criticised by the IFPA. The association was particularly critical of Mr Bruton's stance viewing it as very conservative.

Two of the books which came under criticism

The four books were originally developed by the British Family Planning Association, but had been modified for an Irish audience. Mr Bruton said he was particularly concerned that the books did not adequately deal with the age of consent. However the IFPA's chief executive, Catherine Heaney, pointed out that one of the books states that it is against the law for a man to have sexual intercourse with a girl under 17.

The book also advises that 'the average age when both men and women have sex is now 17. Many wait until they are older'.

"The IFPA firmly believes in providing as much quality information as possible to assist young people in making informed decisions about their sexual behaviour. To this end, we are prepared to work with the NEHB to include a sentence in all of the books which states the legal age of consent", Ms Heaney added.


The association believes that substantial investment in a range of programmes is required in order to ensure more responsible attitudes and behaviour among young people. Such programmes, it argues, should include:

-School and community-based education programmes.

-The establishment of a national free phone service and web-based sexual health and family planning service centre, which would be staffed by trained family planning nurses and would operate at least six days a week.

-Free access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning.

Another area that needs to be tackled in relation to the rise in STIs is the role of alcohol. According to Dr Martin, alcohol 'is not totally to blame for the problem, however it does lower inhibitions and people are more likely to forget to be safe'.

She said that it was important to get the message out about the role of drink, particularly at certain times of the year when alcohol consumption increases, such as Christmas, bank holiday weekends and when people are on holidays. A number of GPs have reported an increase in people arriving home from holidays abroad seeking STI checks because they can not remember much about what they did.

But despite the Government's apparent lack of direction on the issue of STIs, Dr Martin believes that many people recognise the problem as being very important.

"Health boards and organisations such as the Crisis Pregnancy Agency are taking it seriously and I believe there will be a national sexual health strategy eventually", she said.

In the meantime, more facilities are needed to deal with the rising incidence of STIs.

"Accessing facilities throughout the country is a problem. For example, currently the waiting list for the STI clinic at St James's Hospital in the Eastern Regional Health Authority is six to eight weeks, that is unacceptable. We need more facilities", she added.

If you would like more information on STIs, including screening, contact the IFPA at 01 - 474 0944


Anonymous - 11/09/2003 17:23

This was a really interesting article, packed with facts.

Anonymous - 17/09/2003 08:30

I was wondering if you genital warts and they have cleared but still remain in your system can you pass them on

Spailpín - 22/09/2003 18:53

The statement in the above article: 'the average age when both men and women have sex is now 17' refers presumably to Britain. Can anyone clarify this? Has research been carried out to determine what the average age of first sexual experience is in Ireland? The issue of the age of consent is a difficult one. Young people need to be reassured that they will not be criminalised if they have sex before the legal age of consent, and that they will have access to information and protection gainst STIs and pregnancy.

Anonymous - 06/10/2003 22:30

my daughter has had a repeated infection for the past 6 years which, now she has moved to Ireland has been identified as Gardinella, not sure if spelling is right, will this have long term affects on her fertility

Anonymous - 02/06/2004 08:41

What are the chances of passing on genital warts to another person if there are no signs of the infection?

Anonymous - 02/06/2004 10:20

"You can't run a fast campaign, toss out a bundle of leaflets and hey presto, people suddenly manage their sexuality differently" Micheal Martin What kind of an excuse is this for not raising awareness of STDs in Ireland? I agree that "tossing out leaflets" isn't enough, we need graphic and shocking advertisements depicting the horrors of STDs from gonorrhoea to genital warts to pubic lice to chlamydia. It isn't just about AIDS. Anti-STD campaigns should not just be targeted at the 18-35s, the over-35s are out there having one-night-stands as well. This is particularly frightening because a fair proportion of the over 35 age group having one-night stands are married and unaware that they are probably bringing home STDs to their spouses. We Irish have an "ah shure it won't happen to me" attitude when it comes to STDs which leads to a laissez faire attitude towards using condoms. Not to mention being too drunk to remember to use condoms or put them on properly half the time!

Anonymous - 05/08/2004 17:42

I have recently been in a relationship with a woman who has since been diagnosed with Genital Warts! Is it possible that I had been infected with the virus unknown to myself as I didn't show any symptoms and passed it on to her? Or,is it possible that she already had the virus and that during intimate relations this virus was activated? If the latter is the case,what are the chances that I have become infected? What are the longterm effects of this particular virus and will it be possible to resume a normal sex life in the future?

Anonymous - 23/03/2005 19:17

How long after being treated for genital warts is it safe to have unprotected sex. Also if only one partner has them does it nececarily mean they have been having unprotected sex with someone else How long does it take for the signs of infection to materialize

Anonymous - 09/05/2005 11:26

im with my bf 7 yrs iv only slept with 2 people thats him and a one night stand 2yrs ago but used a condom, i now mite have genital warts,he had finished with me saying i have slept with someone else, he has no signs of the infection,he slept with 2 people before me is it possible he contracted it to me, or is it me who did this?how long after getting them removed can i have sex, will i pass them onto him again if we get back together?

Anonymous - 11/09/2005 22:05

I went last Wednesday to get tested for STIs at the Gay Health Men's Project just off Baggot St. Even though I am still a virgin I am paranoid about catching STIs through unprotected oral sex. I may refrain from doing that in future as I am so afraid of getting a serious virus. Maybe this will just involve me refraining completely from one-night stands and waiting for a proper boyfriend. Anyway I am quite shocked at the smugness of my straight friends on this issue. They seem to think they are fine - even a guy who has been quite promiscuous in the past - but the point is that mainly STIs do not present symtoms in all cases. I am committed to getting tested at least once a year, which is really how one should base how well their sexual health is. The ignorance and total lack of action by this government is disgusting.

Anonymous - 21/01/2006 15:15

i recently found out that my ex boyf was having unprotected sex wit a woman he met on the net from england. she visited here, he went to her also. they had unprotected sex both weekends. how do i get tested? ive been having unproteced sex wit him the past 6 months and cant trust his word that he's clear.

Anonymous - 17/02/2006 09:51

is there any councelling available to people who have a sexually transmitted infection or support groups. contacted genital herpes few months ago and have had lots of outbreaks .finding it all very hard to deal with . cant find anywhere in the cork area

Coco - 27/03/2006 03:35

Contracted Genotal Warts a few months ago. There seems to be no support groups available and information on the topic is sparce enough even though its one of the fastest growing and one of the most common std's!! Anybody know any org. that can help?

ashleigh(IDP46219) - 03/05/2006 05:25

I noticed lots of questions on genital warts (HPV). It is a virus, and can be treated but not cured. People can spread it without visible symptoms, some people NEVER have symptoms but can transmit, and people may have a wart removed but still be able to transmit. Many people will not have any visible warts, but just cell changes. A condom will help protect but it is spread skin-to-skin (like herpes). Although a lot of stigma surrounds it, it is REALLY common. There is debate, but much research says that people can "eliminate" it after 2-5-10-15 years. I don't know Irelands stats, but the US is around 70% of adults have had it, and less than a quarter know. Between warts and cervical HPV, it is one of the most common (may be the most) STD's in the world. Cervical cell changes (what they check for in a pap smear) and warts are both strains of the HPV virus, but do not cause each other. (a person with warts will not just develp cervical changes. See for more info, and see a doctor for any add't questions. As embarrasing as it may feel, you are not the only one!!!!

Anonymous - 10/05/2006 16:58

can someone tell me please how do i go about getting tested. what happens and where can i go? if eel i should get it done soon

ashleigh - 10/05/2006 18:29

A smear (pap) will test for cervical HPV. It's important to get this done yearly, since it can lead to cervical cancer. Don't fret, though, cervical cancer takes a very long time to set in, and in countries where testing is accessible it is rarely terminal. Many women have abnormal cell changes and are able to get a simple procedure to remove the affected cells. There isn't really a "test" for warts. When someone has symptoms, doctors can tell visually. Do not diagnose yourself, as there are other things that may appear similar but are not transmittable (like skin-tags). Sometimes they use a vinegar solution to check (turns white) but that isn't a very reliable test. Also, an OB/GYN wouild have a high-powered magnifying glass of sorts they can see cell changes with. In rare cases, they might cut the growth off and biopsy it. The common wisdom is to not worry if you've never had symptoms, and if you have, communicate that with your partner(s).

Jane - 10/06/2006 10:35

i posted a similar question in the insurance forum. I contracted genital herpes a few years ago can anyone tell me if it is posible to get life assurance? Anyone have herpes and mortgage life insurance?

Rob Vam - 12/12/2006 23:28

Where is a good place to go for an sti screening? I just want to make sure.

ashleigh(IDP46219) - 13/12/2006 14:08

Free, Confidential, Public STI testing locations can be found all over the island. For a list, see Some people prefer not to go to their regular doctor (indeed, some can be judgemental, or worse, refuse to do a test for lack of visible symptoms). For others, their regular Doc is their best option. It all depends on what you are most comfortable with.

LilyM - 03/11/2016 12:01

I am having a full STI swab test as ive never had one before and i am sexually active, but I have recently used a pessary to treat thrush, will the test be accurate if the pessary is still dissolving or shall i wait until there is none left? will this alter the accuracy of a vaginal swab?

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