by Kate Ebbutt

  • New analysis of over 2.5 million STI tests shows heterosexual men are the group least likely to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Just one in five orders for at-home STI kits were from heterosexual men
  • 33% of heterosexual men surveyed had never used an in-person STI clinic
  • With spiking STI rates around the UK, leading sexual health doctors call for men to test

Marking Sexual Health Week 2023, Preventx has released new data showing that heterosexual men are the group least likely to test for STIs.

Reviewed 2.6 million tests delivered in partnership with the NHS and local authority since January 2020. They found that heterosexual men were the least likely to test online, with only one in five orders (23%) made by heterosexual men. Heterosexual women accounted for more than twice as many orders (51%).

To understand if this issue also affected other sexual health services, Preventx also asked more than one million users if they had ever had an STI test at an in-person clinic. Just 22% said that they had visited a clinic in the last year. 33% of heterosexual men reported they had never used an in-person clinic to get tested, whereas only 21% of heterosexual women hadn’t.

Preventx also looked at the results of tests conducted via their platform to better understand the health impact of this data. They found that heterosexual men are still at significant risk of STIs.

Heterosexual men are more likely to test positive for chlamydia than heterosexual women (5.51% vs 4.87%), with positivity rates highest in heterosexual men under 25. Preventx data identified a high 1.11% positivity rate for gonorrhoea in heterosexual men aged 16-24. This is considered a high rate because a genital gonorrhoea infection usually causes symptoms in men and these men will be invited into clinic for testing. Identifying such a high positivity rate through an online service, suggests these young men might not be recognising their symptoms or may prefer testing online over visiting an in-person clinic.

Most STIs (including gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV and syphilis) can be asymptomatic, and many people never notice anything unusual despite having acquired infections. If undiagnosed and untreated, STIs can easily be passed on to sexual partners causing significant health issues within the community. Online testing offers a way for people who do not need to visit a clinic to check for STIs, helping people to take care of their own health and preventing onward transmission within communities.

“With spiking STI rates around the UK, it’s so important that everyone who is sexually active tests regularly – even if you don’t have any symptoms. In my clinic I know that heterosexual men can be really reluctant to test – often waiting until symptoms become severe or until a partner persuades them to come in.” said Dr John White, Medical Director at Preventx. “It’s important to remember that it’s not just your own health at risk. Almost every STI we see in women that come to the clinic has been acquired from a heterosexual male partner, who has the infection but might not be displaying symptoms.”

About the author:

Kate Ebbutt is the Head of Marketing and Communications for Preventx