This section will give you information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and advice on how to maintain good sexual health. Click on the links below for more information.

STIs

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK. It is passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse without a condom. Most people who have chlamydia don’t have any symptoms so they don’t know that they have it. Some symptoms of chlamydia include:

  • Pain when urinating
  • Unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or rectum
  • In women: bleeding after sex and between periods

The i-access service now offers chlamydia testing so if you want to be tested please speak to your key worker. Alternatively you can go to the GUM clinic or your GP surgery for testing.

Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics. If it is not treated the infection can spread to other parts of the body, leading to serious long-term health problems such as infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is an STI caused by a bacteria call Neisseria gonorrhoea and is often referred to as “the clap”. The bacteria that cause the infection are mostly found in discharge from the penis and vaginal fluid from men and women with the infection. It is easily passed from one person to another through unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex.

Signs and symptoms of gonorrhoea include:

  • Thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Pain when urinating
  • In women: bleeding in between periods

It is important to note that some people do not experience any symptoms at all so it is important to get tested.

Testing and treatment

You can visit your local GUM clinic to be tested for all STIs including gonorrhoea. It is diagnosed by testing a sample of discharge collected by using a swab. In men, gonorrhoea can be tested for using a urine sample. If left untreated gonorrhoea can lead to infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease so it is important to get tested as soon as possible.

It is usually treated with antibiotics either in tablet of injection forms. Within a few days following treatment most of the symptoms should improve. It is important not to have unprotected sex until you have been given the all clear, otherwise you risk passing it on or re-catching it.

Herpes

Genital herpes is an STI caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and is a relatively common infection. It causes painful blisters on the genitals and surrounding areas. It is passed to others through sexual contact. Once you have the virus it remains in your body and can become active again. It can reoccur frequently in the first two years following infection but over time it tends to become less active and outbreaks become less severe. You can also catch herpes if you have oral sex with someone who has a cold sore as they are the same type of virus.

Symptoms and Treatment

Many people are unaware that they have the virus as there are often very few or no symptoms at all to begin with. However, triggers such as stress, being unwell or drinking alcohol excessively can cause an outbreak of genital herpes. It is most common in 20 - 24 year olds.

There is no specific cure for genital herpes; symptoms are usually managed and controlled by antiviral medication. To prevent the spread of genital herpes avoid having sex until the symptoms clear up.

Genital herpes can cause problems during pregnancy – discuss with your GP or midwife as soon as possible.

Genital warts

Genital warts are an STI and involve small growths or bumps that appear on or around the genital or anal area. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and can be described as a viral skin infection. Although embarrassing they are usually painless and don’t pose a serious health threat.

Genital warts can be spread by vaginal or anal sex but can also be spread by skin-to-skin contact, meaning you don’t necessarily have to have penetrative sex to catch or pass on the infection. It is most likely that the virus will be transmitted when warts are present although it is still possible to pass on the virus before the warts are visible and after they have gone.

Using Condoms is always advisable but they do not protect you against genital warts because the skin around your genitals is not covered by the condom and may pick up the virus. It is recommended that you do not have sex until the warts are fully healed.

Treatment

If you are worried you might have genital warts see your GP or local GUM clinic for testing. If you think you do have genital warts, see a health professional as they may need to be treated. There are several treatments for genital warts including liquids, creams and freezing the warts. Using over the counter wart or verruca creams won’t work as they are only designed for warts on the hands.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial STI. The bacteria can enter your body if you have close contact with an infected sore or if you have vaginal, oral or anal sex with someone who is infected. It can be passed from a mother to her unborn child, which can cause still-birth or the death of the child shortly after labour. It may be possible to catch syphilis if you share injecting equipment with someone who is infected.

Testing and Treatment

You can be tested for syphilis at your local GUM clinic or at your GP surgery. It is advisable that you get tested and receive treatment as soon as possible as untreated syphilis can cause strokes, paralysis, blindness and even death. Syphilis is diagnosed by taking a blood sample and checking for antibodies of the virus. 

If treated early syphilis can be treated relatively easily with antibiotics, usually an injection of penicillin. In order to not contract syphilis again it is advisable to use condoms and dental dams during oral sex.

Advice

Pregnancy, contraception & well woman clinics

Pregnancy

Did you know that even if you’re not having periods you can still get pregnant? A lot of people don’t think this is possible but it is! When you use drugs or alcohol excessively and are not looking after yourself your periods often stop, but you can still get pregnant, so it’s important to practice safe sex and ensure you’re taking precautions. The withdrawal method is outdated and doesn’t work!

We offer pregnancy testing so speak to your keyworker if you need one.

Contraception

The i-access service provides emergency contraception – talk to your key worker about this.

You can also speak to your GP and local GUM clinic about different types of contraception and which one would be best for you. If you’ve got a bit of chaotic lifestyle then maybe consider the implant or injection which you don’t need to remember to take every day! Most contraceptives will only protect you against pregnancy; a condom will also protect you against blood-borne viruses and STIs.

Well woman clinics

Many GP surgeries now offer a well woman clinic where you will be seen by a female doctor or
practice nurse. Some local hospitals also run well woman clinics, you don’t need a referral from your 
GP and an appointment isn’t always needed. Ring your GP surgery for more information.

The clinic will provide advice on:

  • Gynaecological problems
  • Family planning including fitting an IUD coil
  • Cervical smears
  • Breast disease
  • Menopause

They may also provide emergency contraception.

You can also discuss your general health and have your urine, weight, cholesterol and blood pressure checked.

Some local hospitals also run well woman clinics. To use these, you don't need a referral from your GP and an appointment isn't always needed. Ring your GP surgery for information.

General advice

When people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol it can be easy to forget to use contraception! This can lead to a few issues including unplanned pregnancies, contracting STIs and the risks of catching blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis C and HIV.

If you are planning to have sex then make sure you’re prepared:

  • Speak to your GP or local family planning clinic about the best type of birth control for you. This could be the pill, injection, implant or coil; however, these will only protect you from becoming pregnant. You will also need to use a condom to protect you from contracting an STI or blood-borne virus.
  • Carry condoms with you and make sure you have a discussion with your partner about contraception before you have sex!
  • Have regular tests for blood borne viruses and STIs at the GUM Clinic – if you have an STI it is your responsibility to tell a potential sexual partner!

You can also take the safer sex test below and find out how much you know about contraception and sexually transmitted infections.

content provided by NHS Choices