What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection?
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) are passed on between people during sexual contact. They can be passed on during vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as through close genital contact with an infected partner.
The only way to protect yourself from infections is to use a condom every time you have sex.
STI’s can fall into one of the following categories:
- Bacterial infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis;
- Viral infections such as genital warts, herpes, hepatitis B and HIV;
- Fungal infections such as thrush;
- Parasitic infections such as pubic lice and trichomonas vaginalis.
What are the symptoms?
Some people with an STI will develop symptoms:
In females this may include abnormal vaginal discharge, abnormal bleeding between periods or after sex, pain or discomfort during sex, lower abdominal pain and genital lesions.
In males this may include discharge from the penis, pain or discomfort when passing urine, genital lesions, and occasionally testicular pain or discomfort.
However, many people with an STI will have no symptoms.
What are the reasons to have a sexual health check?
- You have a new partner
- You have had unprotected sex
- You have symptoms
- If you are worried
How do I get tested?
If you have ever had sex without a condom or a condom has broken during sex you could be at risk of having an STI. Some infections such as warts or herpes can be spread even if you use a condom. If you are worried that you may have been exposed to an STI you should get tested. Undiagnosed infections can have serious consequences and can lead to long-term complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility (not being able to have a baby), and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. However, many STIs are easily treated.
Getting tested for STIs is FREE and CONFIDENTIAL even if you are under 16.
There are different tests to diagnose different STIs. These include:
- Testing your urine
- a swab taken from either the tip of the penis or the cervix (which is just inside the vagina)
- a blood test
- a visual examination by the doctor or nurse
If you go into a clinic, the doctor or nurse will fully explain what each test is for and what it involves, as well as when and how you will get your results. You can choose which tests you have, you do not have to have them all.
Many STIs can be easily treated and will disappear completely. For others, it may be possible to treat the symptoms but the infection will stay in your body. If you do have a sexually transmitted infection, it is important to inform any current partner or recent sexual contacts so that they can be treated as well. The clinic will be able to help you with this.
How can I find out more?
Find out more about each STI, including their symptoms and treatment on the FPA STI Guide.
There is also good information on the NHS Choices website.
Need to speak to someone
Call 0300 303 2880 to book an appointment or use our service finder to locate your nearest clinic.