STIs can be passed between sexual partners during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, through sharing sex toys without using a new condom over them for each partner using them and sometimes through skin to skin contact if sores or rashes are present.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection and is usually passed on during vaginal/frontal, anal and oral sex through contact with the sores or rashes caused by the infection.
Testing for syphilis is quick and painless and it is easy to treat and cure with antibiotics, but leads to serious problems if left untreated.
Gonorrhoea is one of the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Testing for it is quick and painless, and it can be treated with a course of antibiotics, although a drug resistant strain has been on the rise in England. This strain is resistant to one of the two antibiotics used to treat gonorrhoea.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Testing for it is quick and painless, and it can be treated with a course of antibiotics. If left untreated it can cause painful complications and serious health problems.
Hepatitis (sometimes shortened to hep) is an inflammation of the liver. This large organ on the right side of your body has many functions, including turning your food into energy and filtering toxins such as alcohol out of your blood.
Herpes is a common STI caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV remains in the body for life, although it stays inactive most of the time.
Many people won’t have any visible signs or symptoms of infection, won’t notice any symptoms or will think they are something else.
Genital warts are one of the most common STIs, with over 130,000 cases treated every year.
Genital warts are caused by HPV infection. Most new infections show no signs, with no visible growths and usually clear themselves within a year.
LGV stands for lymphogranuloma venereum, and is a form of the common STI chlamydia.
LGV is very rarely seen in heterosexual people in the UK but cases are seen among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
Shigella is a type of bacteria found in faeces (poo) that causes severe stomach upset. If severe, the infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics.
It's passed on through getting infected faeces in the mouth, either when having sex or through contaminated food.
Trichomonas (also known as TV, trichomoniasis or trich) is a common non-viral STI.
Testing for trichomonas isn’t as common as for the other STIs, so you may need to ask to be tested for it.
Most people won’t have or show any signs or symptoms of an STI so it’s important to test regularly and after each new sexual partner. If you have an STI and don’t know it you can pass on the infection unknowingly.
Sometimes symptoms don’t appear for weeks or months, and may go away, although you can still have the infection. If left untreated, many STIs can be painful or uncomfortable, and can permanently damage your health and fertility.
This is why it is important to be tested regularly.
These are the most common signs of an STI; 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 (pee)
- Itches, rashes, lumps or blisters, mainly around the genitals or anus (back passage), but can be on other parts of the body.
- Pain and/or bleeding during sex
- Bleeding between periods (including those using hormonal contraception)
- Bleeding after sex
- Pain in the testicles
- Pain in the lower abdomen (belly)
However, if you don’t recognise any of these symptoms, and notice or experience something that isn’t normal for you, or doesn’t feel right then please seek advice from your GP or a sexual health clinic.
You can get tested and treated for all STIs at a sexual health clinic. GPs, contraception clinics, young people’s services and some pharmacies may also provide testing for some of the more commonly experienced STIs. If they can’t provide what you need, they will be able to give you details of the nearest service that can.
All testing, treatments, advice and information is free for everyone, although if you use your GP and need medication you may have to pay a prescription charge.
Tests may include:
- An exam of your genitals, mouth, anus and skin to look for signs of an infection like a rash, swelling, redness or discharge
- Testing a sample of your urine (pee)
- Having blood taken to test
- Swabbing your urethra (the tube that urine comes out of)
- Swabbing the throat and rectum
- Swabbing any sore, rashes or blisters present
People with a vagina/front hole may also be asked if it’s OK to
- Swab the vagina and cervix (if you have one)
- Have an internal exam
As you are not automatically tested for all infections, or at all sites that may show an infection, it is better to talk with the doctor or nurse and ask to be tested for the most common STIs and for throat and rectal swabs to be taken if you have oral and/or anal sex.
You can get a test kit to test yourself at home if you think you have an STI but aren’t showing any symptoms. Home tests are a good way to test for STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV. In some areas you can order a free home testing kit.
Some pharmacies sell STI test kits, make sure any that you buy have a CE mark.
An example of a CE mark.
Using condoms correctly and consistently with your partner(s) and on your sex toys if you share them will provide you with the best level of protection against STIs. Nothing will provide 100% protection as some STIs are spread via bodily contact with any sores, rashes or blisters present.
For the best way to protect against STIs:
- Use external (male) or internal (female) condoms every time you have penetrative sex, either vaginal/frontal or anal sex.
- Avoid sharing sex toys unless they are covered with a new condom before the other person uses them.
- During oral sex you could cover the penis with a condom, and the vulva and/or anus with a small latex or polythene sheet/square.