In the UK, the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection is chlamydia. It is particularly common amongst teenagers and young adults. In an effort to reduce chlamydia rates in this age group, a nationwide scheme – the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP) – has been established which administers free tests to people aged between 15 and 24. Chlamydia is also prevalent in gay and bisexual men – there were 12,900 new diagnoses for this category in 2016.
If you’re a sexually active man and you’re concerned about chlamydia infection, read the following guide to familiarise yourself with its causes and symptoms.
Signs of chlamydia in men
The first thing to be aware of is that chlamydia does not always cause symptoms. It is estimated that 50% of all men who become infected with chlamydia suffer no symptoms – at least to begin with. If chlamydia is left untreated (which it may be if it is causing no symptoms) it can lead to serious complications.
When chlamydia does cause symptoms, they can be very similar to other STIs such as gonorrhoea. Male symptoms of chlamydia include:
- Pain when urinating
- Discharge from the penis that is white, watery or cloudy
- Itching or burning in the urethra
- Pain and swelling in the testicles
Chlamydia can also infect the throat, eyes and rectum. This means that men can also experience:
- Redness, pain and discharge in the eye (conjunctivitis)
- Discharge from and pain in the rectum
If you notice these kinds of symptoms in yourself, you should get tested as soon as possible. If you notice these kinds of symptoms in a male sexual partner it’s best to refrain from any sexual activity until they have been tested and received treatment.
In female sexual partners, look out for pain when urinating, abdominal pain, pain during sex and bleeding after sex as these can indicate chlamydia infection.
Complications of chlamydia
When left untreated chlamydia can lead to other conditions and symptoms. In men, chlamydia infection can lead to the inflammation of the testicles and the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles (the epididymis). If you develop this complication you may experience:
- Swelling or a lump in the testicle
- Discharge from the penis
- Difficulty urinating or needing to urinate more often
- Later on, problems with fertility
Untreated chlamydia can also cause sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA), which can lead to:
- Pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints
- Pain and redness in the eyes
- Pain when urinating
Inflammation of the testicles and epididymis can usually be treated with antibiotics. SARA cannot be cured, but normally clears up on its own within a few months.
Avoiding chlamydia infection
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection which is spread in genital fluids (semen and vaginal fluid). It’s important to bear this in mind, and to remember that chlamydia can be transmitted via various forms of sexual activity.
As a man you can be vulnerable to chlamydia if you are engaging in the following sexual acts:
- Vaginal sex
- Anal sex
- Oral sex
- Non-penetrative sexual contact
- Sharing sex toys
If infected semen or vaginal fluid comes into contact with your genitals, rectum or eyes you are at risk of contracting chlamydia and suffering the symptoms described above.
To stay protected, talk to your sexual partner about their STI status; if you aren’t certain that they are free from infection refrain from sex or use condoms or dental dams.
Condoms should be used for anal sex, vaginal sex and male oral sex (e.g. they should be placed over the penis before oral sex is given). Dental dams (thin soft plastic squares placed over the genitals) should be used for female oral sex.
Using condoms correctly
Even if you use condoms, infection can still happen. This is often because the condom has been used incorrectly, or has broken during sex. To ensure that you remain protected from chlamydia and other STIs you should always follows these rules:
- Use lubricants during anal sex to avoid condom breakage
- Store condoms away from extreme heat or cold as this can cause breakage
- Never use an out-of-date condom
- Make sure the condoms you use have the BSI kite mark and the CE mark on the packet as this indicates that they have been properly tested
- Avoid using oil-based lubricants if you are using latex condoms as these can cause breakage
- Stop having sex if the condom breaks or slips off and use a fresh condom
Getting tested and treated
If you have had unprotected sex and you think you may have been exposed to chlamydia or another STI you should get tested. You can do this for free at your GP surgery, a sexual health clinic or a GUM clinic. You can also order home test kits from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
You should get tested if you are experiencing the kinds of symptoms described above, or if your sexual partner has been diagnosed with chlamydia. If you are under 25 and sexually active it’s recommended that you get tested every year, and every time you change sexual partners – whether or not you have symptoms.
Click here to visit our Sexual Health Tests for Men page and order test kits for chlamydia and other STIs.