Having sex safely can be fun however it’s important to look into contraception options and make sure you’re protected from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
A Sexually transmitted infection (STI) is a bacterial or viral infection that can be caught when you have unprotected sex. STIs can be really uncomfortable to deal with and in some cases can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and in some cases something more serious such as heart disease and reduced immunity. It is important that if you are sexually active, you are tested for STIs every time you change your partner or engage in risky sexual behaviour. STI testing can be done at your local GUM clinic by a healthcare professional. It’s really common to feel shy or embarrassed about being tested for STIs but you’re only human and staff working in sexual health have seen everything before!
Some common symptoms of having an STI include: unusual discharge, stinging, tingling or itching in the genital area, painful inflammation of your genital area, pain or burning when you wee, pain or bleeding when you have sex, or blisters and sores in your genital area.
If you think you might have an STI, this quiz can help to check your symptoms. You can also visit your local GUM clinic if you think you have an STI. For information about opening times and how to book into your local GUM clinic please click here.
Groups who are at particular risk of some STIs:
Some people are at higher risk for STIs, including HIV, due to various reasons including the kind of sex they are having and the amount of partners they have. It is important that people from high risk groups are regularly screened for infections and, on some occasions, may have more in-depth testing depending on the circumstances. Vaccinations are offered to some people in high risk groups and their partners. These can include vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Human Papilloma virus (HPV).
- Sexual health for gay and bisexual men. Find out more Here
- Young people aged 15-24 year olds. Find out more information Here
- Adults over 50 years. Find out more information Here
Looking after your sexual health is important for us all. If you want to know more about healthy sexual and reproductive health click Here
Some common STIs:
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in the UK. It is passed through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex and is most common in young people. Some of the symptoms of chlamydia include: pain when going for a wee, unusual discharge, bleeding after sex (women) or pain/swelling of the testicles (men). Chlamydia can be treated with a course of antibiotics and can be dangerous if left for a long period of time. Getting tested for chlamydia can be done by your GP or a GUM clinic by taking a urine sample or a swab sample. If you prefer to do a test in privacy, postal test kits are available and can be ordered here for free. More information and advice about chlamydia can be found here.
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection mainly found in discharge from the penis or vaginal fluid. It can be transferred through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex. The infection can also transfer from a mother to her baby so it’s important to get tested if you’re pregnant. Some symptoms of gonorrhoea include a thick yellow or green discharge, pain when going for a wee, and in women bleeding between periods. 1 in 10 men and almost half of women do not experience symptoms of gonorrhoea. If you think you might have gonorrhoea, you can get tested at your local GUM clinic or your GP practice. To find your local GUM clinic please click here. You can also order a free home testing kit here. More information about gonorrhoea can be found here.
- Genital herpes
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that can be passed on during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some of the symptoms of genital herpes include small blisters which when burst are red and sore, tingling, burning, or itching around your genital area, pain when you pee, vaginal discharge that is not usual for you (women). Blisters will not appear straight away and could take months or even years to form. If you think you have genital herpes, it is important that you get treatment as soon as possible. Your GP will refer you to a GUM clinic if they suspect you have genital herpes or you can attend a GUM clinic for advice. To find where your nearest GUM clinic is please click here. For more information and guidance about genital herpes please click here.
- Genital warts
Genital warts is an STI that is caught by having unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Genital warts is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) and can stay in your skin to produce warts. This can continue to happen until the body is able to fully clear the virus. You may have one or more painless growths or lumps around your genital area if you have genital warts. You might also have itching or bleeding from your anus and a change to your normal flow of wee (e.g. sideways). If you have one or more of these symptoms it’s important to show a healthcare professional. Your GP will refer you to a GUM clinic if they suspect you have genital warts or you can attend a GUM clinic for advice. Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the infection however a healthcare professional will be able to advise you on the best option for you. To find your nearest GUM clinic please click here. For more information and guidance about genital warts please click here.
Syphilis is an STI that is caused by a bacteria. It is less common than other STIs however catching syphilis has been on the rise recently. It can be caught be unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Syphilis can also be passed from mother to unborn baby if not treated. Syphilis develops in three stages; you might notice a painless sore on the genital area known as a chancre, before getting rashes on your hands and the soles of your feet as well as small skin growths and flu-like symptoms. If syphilis is left untreated it can lead to serious illness, and in the worst cases, death. This is why if you display any symptoms of syphilis it is important to visit your GP or your local GUM clinic. To find your local GUM clinic, please click here. Treatment for syphilis usually involves taking a short course of antibiotics however a healthcare professional can advise otherwise. For more information about syphilis, please click here.
HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system so it cannot fight off infection. HIV can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal and anal sex (and rarely oral sex), through mother to unborn baby, and sharing needles. The HIV virus is transmitted by infected blood or infected blood products. Those most at risk are men who have sex with men, women who have sex with men who have had sex with men, people who have sex with drug users, people who have had sex with people who have been to Africa, and those who have sex with people who have had a blood transfusion in Africa. Some signs and symptoms of HIV include a short flu-like illness two weeks after getting the virus. After this point, you might not experience any symptoms while the virus multiplies. Once the virus is multiplied you may get symptoms such as weight loss, night sweats, persistent diarrhoea, and infections that keep returning. If you think you might have been infected by HIV, you can be tested up to 4 weeks after you have been infected. Testing for HIV can be done at your local GUM clinic or some GP surgeries. To find your local GUM clinic please click here. Free online test kits that are discrete can be ordered here. If you have had unprotected sex with someone who you think is infected with HIV within the last 72 hours, you can take medication called PEP to stop the onset of HIV. You can get PEP from your local GUM clinic or Accident & Emergency Department. If you want to know more about PEP, please click here. If you have HIV and you are struggling with your diagnosis, The George House Trust offers support including counselling and peer support sessions, as well as understanding what to do next and life with a HIV diagnosis. Their website can be found here. For more general information about HIV, please click here.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is the name for a common group of viruses that are caught when having unprotected vaginal/oral/anal sex, however HPV can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact of genitals, and sharing sex toys. You do not need to have lots of sexual partners to catch HPV. Sometimes HPV can present genital warts however this is not always the case. HPV can also cause abnormal changes in cells that lead to cancers such as cervical cancer. This is why it’s important to be vaccinated at age 12-13, or if you’ve missed having the vaccine, you can have it up to the age of 25. You can ask your GP for more information on the HPV vaccine.
Remember, it is important to be tested for STIs every time you have a new sexual partner!
You can find out more on sexual and reproductive health Here