What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?
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.
How Do STIs Increase HIV Risk?
STIs increase a person’s risk of acquiring HIV in one of two ways.
- They can cause lesions on the skin, making it easier for HIV to enter the body. STDs that increase HIV risk in this way include:
- They can cause inflammation, which is triggered by the immune system. Since HIV prefers to infect immune cells, any disease that causes an increase in these cells also will make it easier for a person to become infected with HIV. STIs that increase HIV risk in this way include:
Of course, many STIs increase a person’s susceptibility to HIV in both ways. It is therefore extremely important for anyone who has an STI to be treated. It can help to protect their long-term health. As can, unsurprisingly, practicing safer sex. Reliably, and properly, using condoms for all sexual activity will greatly reduce an individual’s risk of acquiring HIV.
How will I know if I have an infection?
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
Can they be treated?
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.
Where can I go if I am worried I might have an 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.
How will I be tested for sexually transmitted infections?
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.
What will I be tested for?
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.
You can also contact our office at 03-4044 4611 for information about sexually transmitted infections.
How can I protect myself against sexually transmitted infections?
- 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.
- Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash them or cover them with a new condom before anyone else uses them.
This website can only give you basic information about sexually transmitted infections. Remember – contact your doctor, practice nurse or a clinic if you are worried or unsure about anything.
Types of STI