The truth about STDs

By: Dr Foong

Raffles Hotel Arcade and Star Vista
Posted on: 5 Jul 2023

As a practicing family physician, I see women and men who are concerned about sexually transmitted disease (STDs). Unfortunately, many people feel it is not going to happen to them …until it does. The rise in popularity of dating apps and online dating has been directly linked to a surge in STIs. A survey (Carpenter and McEwan, 2016) of college students shows that sex is listed as the third motivation for using dating apps.

During the circuit breaker in Singapore, the dating app Paktor saw a surge in app usage (Yale -NUS College). More singles joined, and Paktor saw a 10 per cent increase in new users. Singapore users also spent 10 times longer on the app than they did before the pandemic. Obviously, not all app users end up physically intimate, but the opportunity to meet new people increases.

Attitudes towards Sexual Health

Sexual health is an important part of our overall wellbeing. There has been a lot of focus in recent years on mental wellbeing, but perhaps sexual health is yet to be invited into the national narrative. This may be because of the following challenges:

  1. People may feel embarrassed about accessing medical support
    This one is easily addressed. There are welcoming, non-judgemental clinics here in Singapore where you can access compassionate medical care. Be assured that Doctors have a code of conduct to ensure your consultation and tests are entirely confidential. At our clinic, everyone is welcomed and each person is treated with dignity and kindness.
  2. People may not prioritise sexual health
    Sexual health is part of our over-all wellbeing. Don’t disregard it! If you are over the age of 25 or are sexually active (whichever comes first), it is recommended you have a regular PAP test (whether you are married or not) and minimise your risk of cervical cancer. You don’t need to see a gynaecologist for this – find a trusted GP that you feel comfortable with. We do them all the time!
  3. There is a social stigma on sexual health topics
    Due to cultural or religious reasons, sexual health topics may not be discussed openly in Singapore. Schools tend to veer clear of the topic in the belief that there is minimal sex before marriage. Your religious and cultural beliefs are your own, but I urge any sexually active person to take ownership of their sexual health. Don’t worry in silence. We can help.

So, what are the most common STDs?

a) Chlamydia

How do you catch it? Usually through unprotected sex.

Who can catch it? Both men and women

Symptoms? Chlamydia can be sneaky, because you probably won’t have any symptoms you can see or feel. Sometimes the signs of chlamydia are so mild that people don’t notice them, or they mistake the symptoms for something else. Most of the time, people don’t even realize they have chlamydia — that’s part of the reason it’s such a common infection (and why it’s so important to get tested).

When symptoms do occur, they can be easily overlooked. If symptoms occur, they usually start one to three weeks after infection. In women, these symptoms may include vaginal discharge, pain during sex, or painful urination. For men, signs of chlamydia may include discharge from the penis or pain in the testicles. Since these symptoms are relatively mild, it’s easy to overlook them.

How are you tested? Usually with a swab test, or a urine test (if available)

Treatment? Chlamydia can be treated simply with antibiotics.

Prevention? Condoms and getting tested regularly.

b) Syphilis

How do you catch it? Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s spread through contact with sores.

Who can catch it? Both men and women.

Symptoms? Syphilis causes sores on your genitals (called chancres). The sores are usually painless, but they can easily spread the infection to other people. You get syphilis from contact with the sores. A lot of people with syphilis don’t notice the sores and feel totally fine, so they might not know they have it. Later stages of the infection can include rashes on your hands, feet or other parts of your body, flu-like symptoms and late stages of syphilis can cause tumours, blindness, and paralysis. It can damage your nervous system, brain and other organs.

How are you tested? Blood test.

Treatment? Syphilis can be easily cured with medication if you treat it early. But without treatment, it leads to really serious, permanent problems like brain damage, paralysis, and blindness.

Prevention? Condoms and getting tested regularly.

c) Gonorrhea

How do you catch it? A very common bacterial infection especially for teens and people in their 20s. Gonorrhea is sometimes called “the clap” or “the drip.

Who can catch it? Both men and women

Symptoms? It’s another sneaky one because there are few symptoms. For women, symptoms may include pain when urinating, abnormal discharge and bleeding. Men are more likely to experience symptoms. These may include, discharge, pain when urinating or swollen testicles.

How are you tested? Urine or swab test.

Treatment? Syphilis can be easily cured with antibiotics, but it is important that your sexual partners also get treated otherwise you may pass the infection back and forth.

Prevention? Condoms and getting tested regularly.

Should you have a STD test?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article, then please seek medical support. Don’t ignore them! If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to get tested regularly to protect yourself and your partner. Think about getting an STD test if:

  • You’re embarking on a new relationship
  • You’re having sex without a condom
  • You have multiple sexual partners
  • Your partner has cheated on you

Still embarrassed?

Call our clinic or another provider and simply book and appointment to come in. If the receptionist asks what the appointment is in regards to, you can just say ‘It’s a personal matter’. The STDs listed here will not go away unless you take medication. These conditions can be easily treated to ensure you are not spreading it to your partner/ other sexual partners.

Remember, my colleagues and I are medically trained professionals who have been seeing patients with STD issues for many years. We will be discreet, professional and we can help you.

Dr Foong is a UK trained family GP with many years of experience in UK and Singapore. Make and appointment or T: 6332 2727




Raffles Hotel Arcade Star Vista