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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s)

Sexually Transmitted Infections

If a person has a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it may be passed on to their partner during sexual contact.  STIs can be passed on regardless of your age, gender or sexuality.

Different infections are spread in different ways, but many are usually passed on through unprotected sexual intercourse, such as vaginal, anal and oral sex. 

It is also possible to contract an STI without having full sex: many STIs can be passed on just through genital contact, such as when the penis touches the outside of the vagina or anus.  Sharing sex toys can spread STIs in the same way. 

The best way to avoid catching an STI is to always use a barrier method of contraception (such as a male/female condom) even during oral sex when a flavoured condom or dental dam could be used.

If you think you may have an STI, even if you have no symptoms but have had a risk you should seek some help. 

As STIs are easily passed on through sexual contact, if you have a positive diagnosis, it is important that your current and past sexual partners are notified (this can be done by clinic staff confidentially) and treated, in order to reduce the risk of spreading the infection and re-infection.   

There is information on each STI under the relevant heading.

There are many types of sexually transmitted infections. Some can be acquired without sexual contact. The most common infections are:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Genital herpes
  • Genital warts
  • Non-specific genital infections (NSGIs)
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Hepatitis B
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Syphilis

The following are not necessarily transmitted through sexual contact:

  • Candidiasis (thrush)
  • Pubic lice
  • Scabies

The most common STIs and signs or symptoms to look out for:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection that can be treated and cured with antibiotics. Around 1:14 sexually active women and men between the ages of 16 + 25 who are tested, have Chlamydia. You can get free Chlamydia screening (see the Chlamydia section).

Most women and men will not know if they have the infection as there are usually no symptoms. However Chlamydia can still cause damage.

In women, Chlamydia can cause complications such as pelvic infection, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. In men, Chlamydia can cause pain, infection of the testicles and infertility. For more information on Chlamydia, click here.

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Genital warts

Genital Warts are the second most common STI, they are caused by the wart virus leaking from the wart and infecting the partner, you don't even have to have full sexual intercourse to get them, just close skin to skin contact will do. Once you have the wart virus, warts will usually start to appear around and on the genital area within a few months - sometimes the virus can be passed on before you even notice you have them. If diagnosed, genital warts are generally treated with either a special ointment at the clinic, a liquid or cream to use at home or, in some cases, they may be frozen off or laser treatment may be needed. Treatments should not be painful but sometimes it may be uncomfortable.

For a man there are no known long-term ill effects from having them, but there have been links made between some genital wart viruses and the increased risk of cervical cancer later in life.

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Gonorrhoea

Another bacterial infection similar to Chlamydia, and nearly as common, again passed on through having sex without a condom. Easy to treat with antibiotics if you know you have it, but a lot of people do not get any symptoms. Men may get a white, yellow or green discharge from their penis, pain when they urinate, or tender testicles. Women may get a change in their discharge, possibly turned yellow or green, pain when urinating or possibly pain in the pelvic area. If left untreated it can lead to problems with their fertility for both men and women.

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Genital Herpes

A virus that is passed on by just close sexual contact with a person who is having what is called an episode of herpes - the virus will leak from the outbreak which commonly looks like blisters or sores around the genital area, both inside and outside of the penis, vagina or rectum. Sometimes, though, the outbreak may go unnoticed by the sufferer. Unfortunately there is no cure for herpes although treatment can be given to a sufferer who has frequent attacks. Basically herpes comes and goes and will affect everybody in a different way, some people are lucky and may only get one outbreak of herpes. Other signs to look out for may be a tingling sensation in the area affected, pain urinating or even feeling generally unwell - a bit like an attack of the flu.

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Pubic Lice or "Crabs"

Pubic lice are very small parasites that live in body hair. A very close relative of head lice, they can be caught in the same way by close hair-to-hair contact. Once they have got into your pubic hair they will start to lay their eggs or 'nits' and after a while you will probably get very itchy, maybe a rash will appear where you have scratched yourself so much.

Sometimes people find out they have them when they notice a fine black dust or spots in their pants, that is the lice's droppings, poo in other words.

Sometimes they will get into other body hair, such as under the armpit or even in men's beards and moustaches.

Treatment is simple, special lotions or shampoos need to be applied and left on for the required time, these can be got from the GUM clinic, GP or a chemist who can advise you of the best treatment. Clothing, bedding and towels will also need to be washed, on a hot cycle, to avoid re-infection.

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Further information

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a major cause of ill health. They can also cause ectopic pregnancy (where an egg is fertilised and becomes implanted in the fallopian tube), and may also lead to infertility in both men and women.

Since 1995 there have been large increases in the number of people diagnosed with STIs, particularly women in their late teens and men in their early twenties. This may be because people are more aware of STIs and are visiting clinics to be tested.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms vary between STIs and some have no symptoms at all. Where there are symptoms, these may include unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, heavy periods or bleeding between periods, pain or burning sensation when passing urine, rashes, itching or tingling around the genitals or anus.

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