Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) help
Some infections can pass to another person through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, by genital contact and through sharing sex toys. Infections spread in this way are known as sexually transmitted infections.
Safer sex involves using condoms correctly every time you have sex. If you don’t use a condom you are more at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection.
You don’t need to have lots of sexual partners to get an infection.
Most sexually transmitted infections can be treated and it is usually best if treatment is started as soon as possible.
Some infections, such as HIV, genital warts and genital herpes, never leave the body but there are drugs available that can reduce the symptoms. Drugs can also help prevent or delay the development of complications in HIV.
If left untreated, many sexually transmitted infections can be painful or uncomfortable, and can permanently damage your health and fertility, and can be passed on to someone else.
Not everyone who has a sexually transmitted infection has signs and/or symptoms. Sometimes these don’t appear for weeks or months and sometimes they go away, but you can still have the infection and pass it on to someone else.
If you experience any of the following you should seek advice:
- unusual discharge from the vagina
- discharge from the penis
- pain or burning when you pass urine
- itches, rashes, lumps or blisters around the genitals or anus
- pain and/or bleeding during sex
- bleeding between periods (including women who are using hormonal contraception)
- bleeding after sex
- pain in the testicles
- pain in the lower abdomen.
Even if you don’t have any signs and/or symptoms you may wish to seek advice if:
- you have had unprotected sex with a new partner recently
- you or a sexual partner have sex with other people without using a condom
- a sexual partner has any symptoms
- you are planning a pregnancy and may have been at risk of infection.
You can get all tests and treatments at a GUM or sexual health clinic. General practices, contraception clinics, young people’s services and some pharmacies may also provide testing for some infections. If they can’t provide what you need, they will be able to give you details of the nearest service that can.
All advice, information and tests are free, but if you go to a general practice you may have to pay a prescription charge for any treatment.
Tests for both men and women may include:
- an examination of your genitals, mouth, anus and skin to look for obvious signs of infection
- testing a sample of your urine
- having blood taken
- taking swabs from the urethra (tube where you urinate) and any sores or blisters
- taking swabs from the throat and the rectum. This is less common.
In women the tests might also include:
- taking swabs from the vagina and cervix (entrance to the uterus)
- having an internal examination.
You will not automatically be tested for all infections. All tests are optional and should only be done with your permission. Sometimes you will get the results straightaway, and sometimes you will have to wait. The service will explain how you will get the results.
Other services available may include:
- sessions for people who have been sexually assaulted
- psychosexual counselling (to help with sexual problems)
- hepatitis B vaccination
- post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) – a short course of anti-HIV drugs for people who may have recently come into contact with HIV.
Wherever you go, you shouldn’t be judged because of your sexual behaviour.
- All advice, information and tests are free.
- All services are confidential.
- All test are optional and should only be done with your permission.
- Ask as many questions as you need to – and make sure you get answers you understand.
- The staff will offer you as much support as you need, particularly if you need help on how to tell a partner.
- Use male or female condoms every time you have vaginal or anal sex.
- If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom or the female genitals and male or female anus with a latex or polyurethane square.
- If you are not sure how to use condoms correctly see our information on condoms.
- Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.