Sexual Health and STIs
Sexual Health and STIs
When you start having sex you’ll need to think about your sexual health. Sex as part of a loving relationship can be great but you need to understand the risks involved too. Unprotected sex can lead to unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Practicing safe sex means you’re highly unlikely to get pregnant or catch an STI. The safest way to have sex is using a condom. This is the only form of contraception that protects you against STIs as well as pregnancy.
You should always use a condom when having sex with someone for the first time, even if you are also using another contraceptive method like the pill. Many STIs don’t have any noticeable symptoms and can be passed on without you realising.
You’re more likely to contract an STI if you’ve had multiple sexual partners, but you could still catch an STI if you only have unprotected sex once. This is why it’s so important to get regularly tested.
There will be a sexual health clinic in your area where you can go for a confidential STI test. Nothing goes on your record and no one will judge you. The nurses and doctors who work at these clinics are there to help and are used to seeing all kinds of issues.
If you are in a relationship and have started having sex you should think about your contraception options. Contraception is any method used to prevent pregnancy. The only contraceptive that is also effective against STIs is a condom.
There are many other ways to prevent pregnancy though. For girls these include taking the pill, having the implant, having an injection, or getting a coil or IUD fitted. You should speak to your doctor about what method of contraception is most suitable for you.
Some contraceptives can’t be used if you have certain medical conditions. There are also side effects to some contraceptives, which can make a particular method unsuitable for you. Always remember that these kinds of contraception are used to prevent pregnancy, not to protect against STIs.
What are the symptoms of an STI?
Many STIs don’t have any symptoms which is why they can be so dangerous. You can pass them on without even realising you had one yourself. This also means you can’t tell if someone else has an STI just by looking at them.
Some symptoms that could be a sign of an STI include pain during sex, an unusual or smelly discharge, rashes or sores, or irregular periods for girls. If you are worried that you might have an STI you should get tested as soon as possible.
If you have unprotected sex you are increasing your risk of catching an STI. Because they often don’t have symptoms it is a good idea to get tested regularly once you become sexually active. These tests are quick and painless and will mean you can get treatment early. This is better for your health and will mean you won’t pass an STI on to anyone else.
How many STIs are there?
There are a number of STIs that you could catch if you have unprotected sex. Among young people in the UK chlamydia is the most common and often people with chlamydia won’t show any symptoms.
Other STIs include gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, genital warts, pubic lice and trichomoniasis. HIV is another STI, but having unprotected sex isn’t the only way for people to contract the virus.
There are also other conditions that aren’t classed as STIs, but that can be triggered by sex. Bacterial vaginosis, thrush, cystitis, vaginitis, urethritis and proctitis are all conditions that can appear after you’ve had sex. You will notice symptoms with many of these conditions. These can include soreness, pain when you wee or itchiness.
If you’re at all worried you should go to your doctor or a sexual health clinic. They will be able to test you to see what’s wrong and give you the most appropriate treatment.
What’s it like to get tested?
It’s normal to feel embarrassed or nervous about being tested for STIs. But everyone who works in sexual health clinics is there to help not to make you feel bad.
Getting tested doesn’t take too long. The doctor or nurse will ask you questions about your sex life. They’ll also ask you why you think you might have an infection. If you don’t think you have an STI but just wanted to be tested to be sure, that’s fine.
The tests themselves may involve giving a wee sample, a blood sample or swabs from your urethra (the tube urine comes out of). There may also be an examination of your genitals. For women, you may also have to give a swab from your vagina.
You might get some of the test results on the day. You may have to wait a week or two for the others. That means the clinic will need to be able to contact you to give you the results. They can usually do this over the phone or with an unmarked letter. You will be able to tell them what you’d prefer.
These results won’t get sent to your GP if you have been tested at a sexual health clinic. It’s all completely confidential.
How are STIs treated?
Most STIs can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Once you’ve been diagnosed you’ll be given a prescription. You shouldn’t have sex until you have finished your course of antibiotics and the infection has gone.
There can be other treatment options depending on the STI. If you test positive, the staff at the clinic will explain exactly what the treatment involves. They’ll also give you information about practicing safe sex in the future.
HIV has no cure but there are treatments you can have to help manage the condition. If you test positive for HIV the staff at the clinic will be there to offer you all the support you need.
If you are diagnosed with an STI you should tell all the people you’ve had sex with in the last six months. They will need to get tested too. If you haven’t had sex in the past six months then you should still let you last partner know.
I had unprotected sex. What should I do?
Don’t panic. The first thing you should do is visit a sexual health clinic or your doctor. Women should book an appointment as soon as they can to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. There are two types of emergency contraception that can stop you getting pregnant.
The emergency contraceptive pill (often called the morning after pill) can actually be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. They work by preventing or delaying ovulation. They’re not foolproof and are more effective the sooner you take them after unprotected sex.
The other option is to have an IUD (also called a coil) fitted. This will stop the egg implanting in the uterus. You will need to have it fitted within five days of having unprotected sex. Once you have an IUD you can continue to use it as your regular form of contraception.
Men and women should get tested for STIs. You should book an appointment as soon as you can but it isn’t as urgent as accessing emergency contraception.
Can me and my boyfriend stop using condoms?
If you are in a long-term and happy relationship then you may decide you want to stop using condoms. If neither of you has an STI then you won’t be at risk of passing anything to your partner. But there is a risk of pregnancy if you have sex without a condom and aren’t using any other method of contraception.
Speak to your doctor about what contraception would be most appropriate for you. There are lots of options available. Contraception is free. You can get it through your doctor’s surgery, community contraceptive clinics and sexual health clinics.
Your doctor won’t tell your parents if you are using contraception, even if you are under 16 years old. They will want to know you are mature enough to understand the decisions you are making and the information they give you though.
Did you know?
-There are 15 types of contraception available in the UK
-Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK
-Young people under 25 are more likely to be diagnosed with an STI than older age groups
Please be aware that this is NOT for emergency help. CLICK HERE for information on emergency help.