Sexual Health

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most frequently diagnosed sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK. It is a bacterial infection passed on through unprotected sex, and most common among women in their teens and men in their twenties.

It is important to know that people: “can get chlamydia by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is already infected. It can also be passed on by sharing sex toys which haven’t been washed or covered with a condom before each use. It can also be passed by a pregnant woman to her baby during pregnancy or at the birth.” [National Chlamydia Screening Programme].

The National Chlamydia Screening Programme advises: “If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom or the female genitals with a latex or polyurethane (plastic) square (dam)”.

Chlamydia is known as the ‘silent’ disease because most people who have it will have no symptoms. So, without a test most people will probably not know anything is wrong. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause infertility (not being able to have children) and it could develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

However, some people do develop symptom which for women includes: unusual vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, bleeding after sex, pain (and/or bleeding) during sex, pain when passing urine and pelvic pain (in the lower belly). Men may experience any of the following symptoms: a white/cloudy or watery discharge from the penis, burning and itching in the genital area, pain when passing urine and painful swelling of the testicles.

The National Chlamydia Screening Programme advises that sexually active men and women under 25 should have a chlamydia test once a year or, when they change sexual partner.

The young people we talked to went for chlamydia testing to their GP surgery, GUM (genito-urinary medicine), Family Planning, or Brook clinics and to local young people’s health projects in their communities. In general, young people spoke well of health professionals who were described as sensitive and able to put their nerves at ease. The main criticism was about the waiting time which some found excessive. Young people we interviewed knew that they could also get a chlamydia test from their GP surgery. For people under the age of 25, it is also possible to order a chlamydia test online or by phone that will be sent by post free of charge (NHS choices has more information on this). 

We also talked to those who have had a chlamydia test as part of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP). These young people were invited to do the chlamydia test but were not particularly concern about STIs. The main advantages of the NCSP are that:

  • It brings chlamydia testing to where young people are
  • It does not need planning
  • It helps give access to teenagers that may not be willing or able to attend a clinic and request testing.

The test for chlamydia is simple. Men will be asked to give a urine sample and women can either give a urine sample or take a swab themselves from the lower vagina. Chloe knew that her GP surgery offered free chlamydia testing kits so she got a kit and sent her sample by post in the stamped, addressed envelope provided.

The common treatment for chlamydia is a course of antibiotics. The two most commonly prescribed treatments are: Azithromycin (single dose) and Doxycycline (longer course). Besides treatment, health professionals will also tell patients to not have any sex (oral, vaginal, anal or use sex toys) until seven days after completing treatment.

Young people we spoke to said that they phoned the clinic or received their results by text. Test results take between 7 to 10 days. Waiting for the test result was described as an ‘anxious time’. Sometimes, after having the treatment, young people tested again just to make sure they were definitely chlamydia free.

The test will only tell people if they have chlamydia. But some young people opted to be tested for STIs in general, including HIV.

Because chlamydia is spread through unprotected sex, health professionals stress the importance of telling present and past boyfriends/partners as they may have it too. If a test is positive, the staff at the clinic or GP surgery will discuss which sexual partners may need to be tested. People have the option to contact them directly or the clinic can get in touch with them but without mentioning people's names.

Finding out you have chlamydia can be upsetting. Fiona felt embarrassed but Chloe was infected by her ex-boyfriend and felt humiliated as well as cheated by someone she had trusted. But upset feelings didn't last long, particularly when friends were around to help them through the experience.

A diagnosis of chlamydia can be difficult to handle by present boyfriends/partners leading to arguments or tension in the relationship. Young women we talked to stressed the importance of regular chlamydia testing, regardless of whether women trusted their boyfriends or not!

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated January 2016.

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