What is sexual health?

It can be very embarrassing talking about sex and sexual health, but you need to think about it and be prepared! Young people don’t always feel comfortable talking to parents or carers and your mates might pretend to know all the answers, but they are usually in the same situation as you!

One thing to remember is that there might be a lot of peer pressure to say you have slept with someone, but you must make sure that you are ready to make that step and do not do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. You have to do what’s right for you and remember – the legal age for sleeping with someone is 16!

There are lots of places where you can get free, confidential advice, not only about sex, contraceptives, sexual health 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. 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. If you are worried about being seen going there are more anonymous, confidential centres you can visit.

Brooks Advisory Centres

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. Look at their website for more information.

FPA

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.

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 to 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?

Websites such as ‘Are you thinking about it enough?’ at www.ruthinking.co.uk/, ‘Like it is’ at www.likeitis.org.uk/ and ‘Sexperience’ at http://sexperienceuk.channel4.com/sex-education give you information on sex, relationships, contraception and sexual health.

Visit a Brooks Advisory Centres (commonly known as Brook) which are free and confidential providers of sexual health advice and services specifically for young people under 25. You can also look on their website at www.brook.org.uk/content/.

Go to a family planning clinic to get lots of advice and free contraceptives. The FPA (formerly The Family Planning Association) is the only registered charity working to improve the sexual health and reproductive rights of all people throughout the UK. Visit their site at www.fpa.org.uk/.

Teen Life Check is a quick and easy online quiz for 12-15 year-olds that lets you check out your health and lifestyle. Your answers and results are confidential and you’ll get some useful advice on issues such as bullying, stress, home life, crime, healthy eating, exercise, safe sex, drugs, alcohol and more. Visit www.teenlifecheck.co.uk.

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 www.condomessentialwear.co.uk.

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