Experts believe STI rates could be driven down permanently in lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic has been called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity for sexual health

Being trapped indoors and isolated from friends and family due to coronavirus, it’s easy to forget that quarantine does have some silver linings. Previously, we’ve seen decreased emissions worldwide due to the slowing of travel and industry, and now experts have suggested we could see a similar downturn in STI rates.

Obviously, a lot of people’s sex lives have changed significantly since lockdown began, with many turning to virtual alternatives such as online sex parties (porn sites have also, tellingly, seen a surge in activity, in parallel with a rise in sex toy sales). As a result, we now have a unique opportunity to drive down STI rates, which have been rising in recent years.

“If people can keep testing going and everyone gets tested while on this break, it's a once-in-a-lifetime event really,” Justin Harbottle of SH:24, an online service providing free STI test kits, tells the BBC.

“Even at the start of the HIV epidemic, I don't think you had such a clean-cut period where collectively – as a population – people stopped having sex with new partners.”

“If we could test and treat everybody for their infections now, that would be a game-changer going forward as people slowly move towards normality,” adds Dr John McSorley, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV.

HIV rates may be especially affected during quarantine, as it’s most likely to be passed on when someone’s just caught it themselves. Getting an HIV diagnosis during isolation means the likelihood of sexual activity – other than virtual sex – having taken place during the most infectious period is significantly reduced.

“We think there may be less and less people around who are super-infectious,” says Dr Gary Whitlock, from London's Dean Street clinic. “If they start treatment, or become non-infectious, they can't pass it to anybody so it's a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to get people at high risk of HIV to test.”

Obviously, all of this requires actually getting tested before the end of lockdown, when millions of horny people will be released from their homes, to pretty inevitable results. “It's not normal for people to be locked down in their homes,” admits McSorley. “Having a happy, safe, healthy sex life is part of what it is to be alive.”

“Now is the time to think about sex, to think about the future. Have you had a recent test? If not, then now may be the time to do that.”