If you are sexually active, it's really important to know how to reduce the chances of getting an STI or becoming pregnant, as well as looking after your emotional health and wellbeing and those you are having a sexual relationship with. You need to know about:
- Safer sex
- Sexually transmitted infections
- What to do if you think you're at risk.
Even if you don't plan to have sex anytime soon, finding out about safer sex will ensure that you are protected when you do.
Crucial: Safer sex means always using a condom if you have vaginal, oral or anal sex, even if you are using another form of contraception. Most people use a condom with a new or casual partner. Condoms stop infection by sexually transmitted infections (STI) like Chlamydia and HIV. Find out more from BBC Advice.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
An STI, also called a sexually transmitted disease (STD), is passed from one person to another during sex. Some diseases only affect the genitals (sexual body parts) and the parts of your body where urine passes through, while others (like HIV and Syphilis) can go on to damage other parts of the body and if untreated can make you very ill. When spread through oral sex, an STI can infect the mouth and throat.
Know the facts:
- You don't have to have full sex (penetration) to get an STI.
- Many STIs show no symptoms at first.
- The best way to find out if you have an STI is to be tested.
- All STIs can be helped by medical treatment.
Crucial: Remember, you only have to have unprotected sex (sex without a condom) once to be at risk of getting an STI. Find out more from Sexwise.
Chlamydia is the most common STI among young people who are sexually active. Many people who have it don't have any symptoms. If left untreated it can go on to cause pain and infertility but luckily it’s easy to test for and easy to treat. Using a condom correctly every time you have sex can reduce the chances of getting Chlamydia, but it is also important to test regularly. Anyone living in Oxfordshire aged 18+ can get a free NHS chlamydia test online. If you are under 18 you can still be tested, but you’ll need to contact your school nurse, sexual health clinic or your GP or clinic to get a Chlamydia test.
Take action: If you are over 18, you can get tested for Chlamydia for free from home by signing up for your Chlamydia testing kit online. Under 18s should call for a telephone consultation.
HIV is the virus that can eventually lead to AIDS, an illness that affects the body's ability to fight off disease. HIV is passed on in the sexual fluids or blood of an infected person, usually through sexual intercourse or by sharing needles used to inject drugs.
HIV cannot be caught by kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or from door handles or dirty glasses. There is a treatment now (PrEP) that can stop HIV being passed on if you are having sexual relationship with someone with HIV.
Some people believe that HIV is only a problem if you are gay, use drugs, or sleep around. This is wrong. Anyone who has unprotected (not using a condom) sex can contract any sexually transmitted infection, including HIV. Safer sex means always using a condom.
It is really important to get tested early if you think you might be at risk, as it means treatment can start sooner.
Should I get checked?
If you are sexually active you should use the advice and testing services at your Sexual Health Clinic (sometimes called GUM or Genitourinary Medicine). To look after yourself and your sexual partners it’s a good habit to get checked for Chlamydia every time you have sex with a new partner. These are free, confidential, non-judgmental and available to people of any age.
In Oxfordshire, the two main sexual health clinics are in Headington (Oxford) and Banbury. There are also smaller clinics in Abingdon, Bicester, Didcot, East Oxford, Kidlington, Wantage and Witney. You can also go to your GP or School Health Nurse.
Crucial: Find out which clinic is right for you. If you’re worried that you might have a sexual infection, you can go along and get tested.
Sometimes a Sexual Health Clinic will contact you and ask you to come in for treatment. This means that you have been named as a sexual contact by someone they are treating for an STI.
You should always go in and get tested, even if you feel fine. You can easily have an infection and not be aware of it.
Time to get checked!
Any of the following symptoms need to be checked out by a doctor, even if you don't think you're at risk of an STI:
- Unusual discharge from your penis or vagina (smelly, odd colour, not happened before)
- Stinging or burning when you wee
- Rash, sores or warts around your genitals
- Bleeding between your periods, especially after sex
Remember, all STIs can be helped with medical treatment. If you think you might have an STI, get tested as soon as you can. Sexual Health clinics are able to provide walk in appointments, but you may have to wait. Sexual Health clinics are able to provide walk in appointments, but you may have to wait.
Crucial: Condoms are a popular choice for young people as they help provide protection against STIs, and also provide contraception.