Sexually Transmitted Infections

Most people think that Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) – sometimes called Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) – only happen to other people. But with up to 25 STIs and the fact that 1 in 9 people has had an STI, your chances of picking something up are much higher than you think.

STIs affect both boys and girls and are caused by viruses or bacteria, passed on during sex. You can’t always tell by looking if you or your partner has an STI so if you’re worried that you may have caught one you should visit a doctor or clinic as soon as possible.

Most STIs are easily treated but four are incurable including HIV. The best thing you can do to prevent getting an STI is to always use a condom during sexual activity.

So you think you’ve got an STI?

It doesn’t take much to catch an STI, but the majority are pretty easy to treat and the sooner the better. Here’s what to do if you think you might have an STI:

  • Firstly you need to arrange to get tested – see the section below about visiting a GUM Clinic (Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinic).
  • If you’re sleeping with someone at the moment, stop until you know what you’ve got.
  • The GUM clinic will advise you on what to do next.

Even if you are under 16 you have the same right to confidentiality as adults. This means that doctors and nurses should not pass on any information about your visit unless they think you are in serious danger and even then they should discuss the issue with you first.

Visiting an STI Clinic (GUM Clinic)

Usually called a Genito-Urinary Medicine or GUM Clinic – this is somewhere that specialises in STIs and can provide you with tests, treatment and advice.

A few things you need to know include:

  • Every centre is different – always phone to check opening times and if you need an appointment.
  • Don’t be scared or embarrassed. An STI is an illness like any other. You’re looking after your body by going for a check-up and they deal with STIs every day.
  • If you’re worried, ask your partner or a friend to come with you.
  • When you arrive, the receptionist will ask you for your name, date of birth, address and the name of your GP. It’s confidential!
  • You will be examined by a doctor, if you would like to have a male or female doctor, just ask. All STI tests are painless.
  • When you see the doctor, be honest about your sexual history as this will help them treat you.
  • They may treat you there, give you a prescription, or you may need to wait for test results. Your doctor will advise you on what’s best.

There are lots of places where you can get free, confidential advice, not only about sex, STIs and sexual health, contraceptives and pregnancy, but also if you need to talk to someone about making the first step.

You can visit your doctor or look at our suggested websites below. Your local doctor’s surgery will usually have a family planning clinic that you can visit to get advice and free contraceptives. Don’t worry, everything will be kept confidential.

What are STIs?

STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) are pretty much the same thing, and they can have some devastating long term effects on your health if they’re not treated in time. Remember, being on the pill will not protect you from STDs or STIs.

How can you stay safe?

It is important that you use protection whether you are gay, lesbian or straight, to avoid STIs.

Even if you are not having penetrative sex with someone, you could still be at risk of serious STIs if you don’t use a condom or other form of barrier contraception (such as a diaphragm or cap).

A spermicidal lubricant can make contraception even more affective. You can buy condoms that contain spermicide, or buy it separately.

What are the effects of STIs?

Here are the effects of some of the most common STIs:

Chlamydia

If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to infertility for both men and women. You might experience no warning symptoms at all, so get checked out if you’ve had unprotected sex.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes can be passed on through sexual intercourse and oral sex. They cause blisters which can be painful and sore and may return several times over your lifetime.

There is help available to ease the symptoms, so go and see your GP or local Genito-Urinary Clinic (GUM) clinic.

Genital warts

Aside from sounding unpleasant, genital warts look pretty unpleasant and are passed on through skin-on-skin contact. They can be removed by a medical professional.

Gonorrhoea

Also referred to as ‘the clap’, gonorrhoea can cause unusual discharge, painful urination and a range of other symptoms. You might get no symptoms at all however and, if left untreated, gonorrhoea can cause infertility.

Hepatitis B

This highly infectious virus can cause serious damage to your liver and make you feel very ill, with flu-like symptoms.

Hepatitis C

As many as nine out of ten people in the UK could have Hepatitis C – a virus that causes inflammation of the liver, without knowing it. Make sure you’re not one of them by getting checked out.

HIV and AIDS

HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the cells in the body’s immune system, making it unable to fight infections, which can be fatal.

HIV and AIDS can affect anybody – find out more with our HIV and AIDS article.

Pubic lice and scabies

Both pubic lice and scabies are tiny creatures that live in the genital region, as well as other areas of the body. Both can be treated fairly easily once identified.

Syphilis

Syphilis can be passed on through contact with an ulcer – and not necessarily during sex. If left untreated, syphilis can cause very serious health problems and could even lead to death. But treatment is easy and effective once it’s been identified.

If you have had unprotected sex then the best thing you can do is get checked out by your GP or at your local sexual health/GUM clinic as soon as possible, even if you do not have any symptoms.

Who can help?

FPA is the new name for The Family Planning Association and they can give you expert information on anything sexually related. Look at their site for more information at www.fpa.org.uk

Brooks Advisory Centres are commonly known as Brook and are free and confidential providers of sexual health advice and services specifically for young people under 25. Visit their website at www.brook.org.uk/content/ for more information.

Everything you ever wanted to ask about sex can be found on the RU thinking about it website at http://www.ruthinking.co.uk/. You can also call on 0800 28 29 30 for confidential advice.

Another useful website is http://sexperienceuk.channel4.com/sex-education, which provides personal sexual experiences about sexual issues and offers honest and helpful advice on the subject.

Youth Health Talk is a website about young people’s real life health experiences, covering topics including teenage cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and sexual health. You can watch videos of young people talking about their experiences and join in the conversation on the forums at www.youthhealthtalk.org

Find out all you need to know to keep healthy, stay safe and make condoms a fun and essential part of your sex life at http://www.condomessentialwear.co.uk/