Public Health England has reported that the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) diagnosed in England in 2013 has remained at around the same level as 2012 – but that numbers are still worryingly high, especially among young men and gay people.

Chlamydia was the most common STI, making up 47% of all diagnoses, while gonorrhoea diagnoses saw a large rise, up 15 per cent from 2012 to 2013.

Among heterosexuals diagnosed in genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics in 2013, young people (15-24 years) experienced the highest STI rates; gay men were also disproportionately affected, accounting for 81 per cent of syphilis and 63 per cent of gonorrhoea. Gonorrhoea diagnoses rose 26 per cent in this group, nearly double the national rate, which is of particular concern as new, harder-to-treat gonorrhoea strains emerge.

Dr Catherine Lowndes, consultant scientist in PHE’s STI surveillance team, said: ‘Sustained efforts to encourage people to regularly get checked for STIs means we are now finding and treating more infections – which is good news. Nevertheless these data show too many people are still getting STIs each year.

‘Investment in promoting good sexual health awareness, contraception and condom use, and STI testing is vital, as is ongoing investment in easy to access sexual health services that meet the needs of local populations. Not only will this help bring down STI rates but abortion rates and under 18 conceptions as well.’

Individuals can significantly reduce their risk of catching or passing on an STI by consistently and correctly using condoms until all partners have had a sexual health screen, by reducing the number of sexual partners, and by avoiding overlapping sexual relationships.

Cary James, Head of Health Improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘These figures show we now have more gay men testing more regularly, and that’s a good thing. However, it’s not the whole picture. Too many men are taking risks with their sexual health, more often than not because they believe they share a HIV status with their partner. Even if they’re right – which many of them aren’t – eliminating HIV risk does not make you immune to other STIs. The sharp increase in rates of both gonorrhoea and syphilis is concerning, especially in the context of emerging drug-resistant strains of gonorrhoea.

‘Part of the problem is that the current approach to sex education in schools is leaving gay and bisexual men out in the cold. Gay men will continue to be disproportionately affected by sexual ill health until we have a proper programme of sex and relationships education in all schools, that is fit for the 21st century and covers all types of relationship. Taught properly, sex and relationships education has been shown to delay sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase the use of condoms. Having that bedrock in place is a vital step to give gay and bisexual men the confidence as adults to make healthy decisions about sex.’

People are being advised to go to a sexual health centre at least once a year and receive a full health screen free of charge – and gay men are being told that if they have unprotected sex with new or casual partners, they should have a free HIV check every three months.

Terrence Higgins Trust recently launched a campaign with the Sex Education Forum, ‘SRE: It’s My Right’,to encourage politicians to make sex and relationships education a statutory part of the curriculum for all schools in England. For more details on the campaign, or to add your support, click here.