Sexually transmitted infections triple in just four years in France

French health authorities are warning the general public to use protection and get tested after their latest findings suggest chlamydia and gonorrhoea cases in the country tripled between 2012 and 2016.

Sexually transmitted infections triple in just four years in France
Young people aged 15 to 24 are the most affected by STIs. Photo: Matt Preston/Flickr

The number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among the French public is soaring.

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are the main culprits, both seeing their prevalence triple between 2012 and 2016, French health authorities announced on Wednesday.

In 2016, the number of people diagnosed with a chlamydia infection was estimated at 267,097.

That means 491 per 100,000 people aged 15 and over had the STI last year, Public Health France warned.

In 2012, the figure stood at 76,918, less than a third of the 2016 figure.

As for gonorrhoea infections, the number of diagnoses was 15,067 in 2012 and 49,628 in 2016, meaning 91 per 100,000 inhabitants aged 15 and over had the infection.

“The very high number of chlamydia and gonococcal infections highlighted by this survey underlines the importance of using a condom and getting regular screening after unprotected sex,” the health agency explained.

They did so through an awareness campaign they’ve launched on their website, a play on words using the French verb s’exprimer, to express oneself.

Their concern is that the real STI figures are much higher still, taking into account the number of people who don’t get checked up, in large part because they’re not displaying any physical symptoms.

Public Health France believes improved screening tests and increased promiscuity without protection are to blame for the sharp rise in STIs.

STI symptoms include unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus, pain when urinating, lumps or skin growths around the genitals or anus, rashes, unusual bleeding, itchiness, blisters and more.

And whereas all these unpleasant symptoms may push people to go to the doctor for a check-up, in some cases infections don’t manifest themselves so visibly.

It’s important to remember that even in such cases STIs remain highly contagious and can cause everything from chronic pain to infertility, to an increased risk of HIV infection, so Public Health France advises the public to always get screened after having unprotected sex with a new partner. 

Chlamydia infections mainly affect women between the ages of 15 and 24 in France; around 2,271 cases for every 100,000 women. In many cases, the infection goes unnoticed.

France’s Île-de-France region has the highest rate of chlamydia diagnoses.

Their rate of 1,481 cases per 100,000 inhabitants dwarfs the 258 average of the rest of metropolitan France.

Gonorrhoea infections on the other hand affect men more than women, the infection rate for males standing at 131 per every 100,000 compared to 55 of 100,000 females.

Again it’s young people aged 15 to 24 year olds who are most affected.

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.