A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is any kind of bacterial or viral infection that can be passed on through sex. If you have had unprotected sex, it is important that you test for STIs as soon as possible.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve had sex or how many partners you’ve had: anyone can get an STI.
STI testing and treatment is free for all ages so you won’t have to pay anything.
Unprotected sex refers to any form of sexual contact where a barrier method of contraception (such as a condom or female/internal condom) has not been used.
If you have had unprotected sex, you also need to consider emergency contraception.
There are a number of different STIs. The good news is that most of them are easily treated and getting tested and treated is free and confidential.
See below for the different types of STIs, and useful information on getting tested.
Some STIs, like Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, don’t always present symptoms so a person can have them without knowing. However, if you have had unprotected sex, it is important that you test for STIs as soon as possible as they can cause health problems at a later point and can be passed on to others if not treated.
If you don't have any symptoms it's easy to think that there is no need to get tested, or to delay going. Or maybe you have convinced yourself that you don’t have an STI? Read our six reasons that you should get tested - it might just change your mind.
Remember: if you're over 16, you can order a free STI home test kit.
Anyone can get an STI- it doesn’t matter how many times they’ve had sex or how many people they’ve had sex with, we’re all at risk. And remember, you may or may not have symptoms, so that is not a reliable way of knowing if you have an STI or not.
Some people won’t ever experience any symptoms, and yet they’re still infected. For others, symptoms can take months to appear. For example:
Below are some of the symptoms most commonly associated with STIs. Remember though, without being examined and tested by a health professional, you can’t know for certain what your symptoms are caused by.
Discharge is fluid or mucus that comes out of your body. Some discharge is perfectly normal and we may all experience this from time-to-time. However, if you notice discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum that is unusual for you, it could be an STI.
Pain or tenderness in the lower abdomen could also be for other reasons such as ectopic pregnancy or ovulation.
If you are experiencing any symptoms, it is best to visit a sexual health service or GP as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
You can get tested for STIs at sexual health clinics, some GP services and in some other places in the community which have special clinics for certain groups of people.
STI tests are usually quick, simple and relatively painless. Depending on what you’re being tested for, a test usually involves an examination of your genitals, a swab from inside the vagina or from the tip of the penis and a urine or blood sample. Find out more about getting tested.
If you live in Southend-on-Sea, you can also order a test online from SH:24
Depending on your symptoms, STI tests might involve:
Blood samples and swabs for some STIs can be completed at home using STI test kits. If you test positive for an STI, or if you don’t want to test at home, you can visit a sexual health service for testing, treatment and support.
When you request and STI test, our clinicians will discuss with you what tests they think you will need and these tests will probably depend on how you answer some questions about your medical and sexual health.
These questions will include:
It is recommended that you answer these questions as honestly as possible so you can get the help and advice you need. There’s no need to be embarrassed! The people who work in sexual health clinics have seen and heard it all. Trust us!
You will be asked how you would like to receive your test results, this can be via phone, text message or unmarked post. Depending on the type of test you have, some results are available straight away and you may be given treatment to take away with you on the day, but others will need to be sent away to a laboratory and you will usually be contacted in 1-2 weeks.
If you test positive for an STI, you will be asked to come back to the clinic to discuss treatment. The clinic can also notify your previous sexual partners through ‘partner notification’ if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself.
Most STIs can be treated with a short course of antibiotics. Some STIs, such as HIV cannot be cured – but they can be treated to prevent them from getting worse.
If you test positive for any STI, your clinic will encourage you to talk to your current partner and sometimes to your previous partners so they can be tested as well. The clinic will help you find the best way to talk to other people if you need to, and can notify even contact them for you through ‘partner notification’ without even mentioning your name.
STIs can be caught during oral (licking, kissing or sucking someone’s genitals), vaginal or anal sex and some can also be passed through sexual touching and skin-to-skin contact – so the best way to avoid STIs is to use a condom every time you have sex.
Even if you are using another method of contraception such as the pill, implant, patch, contraceptive vaginal ring, IUD or IUS – it’s important to use condoms as well to also protect from STIs.