Where to go for sexual health advice
Good sexual health depends on regular check-ups and practicing protected sex.
Check-ups will make sure any STIs are quickly diagnosed and treated.
If you do not have symptoms, you may also be able to order a full sexual health check online for free by visiting: www.SH24.org.uk
For sexual health information and advice for trans women, trans feminine and non-binary people, and anyone assigned male at birth (AMAB) but who identifies differently, please visit The Terence Higgins Trust
What is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among men who have sex with men?
STIs can be passed on through all types of sex (anal, oral, or vaginal).
Gonorrhoea is the most common STI among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the UK. Chlamydia is the second most common (Information from Public Health England).
Cases of syphilis amongst men who have sex with men have also increased significantly across the country and locally over the last few years.
Among gay and bisexual men, the number of HIV diagnoses first made in England has continued to decrease since 2015. This reflects the success of increased HIV testing and increased uptake of HIV treatment as well as increased uptake of PrEP (see below for more information on PrEP).
For more information on HIV testing and treatment visit the Open Clinic website
What are common STI symptoms?
STI symptoms can include:
- pain when peeing
- lumps, bumps, or sores on your genitals
- discharge from the penis or bottom
Some STIs have no symptoms at all though so it’s worth having regular sexual health check-ups.
You should contact a sexual health clinic if:
- you have symptoms of an STI
- a sexual partner has symptoms of an STI
- you’re worried after having sex without a condom or a condom has broken
Many STIs have no symptoms at all so the only way to know for sure is to get tested.
How often should I be getting an STI test?
How often you should be checked depends on how many people you have sex with.
If you don’t have a regular partner or have different sexual partners, you should have a check-up at least every three months.
Before having sex at the start of a new relationship, have a check-up. A sexual health screen should also include a HIV test.
If you get any symptoms that may be an STI (e.g. sores or discharge), go to a clinic straight away and don’t have sex until given the all-clear.
Visiting a sexual health clinic
When you visit one of our sexual health clinics, you will be asked to fill in a registration form. We ask for your gender at birth as well as your gender identity and preferred name. Gender at birth helps us determine which tests to run. We can help support you to attend the clinic if you’re worried; contact us to discuss this by emailing SexualHealthComms@mpft.nhs.uk
To test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea we will ask for a urine or swab sample, depending on the type(s) of sex you’ve had, you may be able to do this yourself. Telling the clinician about any genital surgeries you’ve had helps them to determine the best way to collect your sample. For other tests such as HIV and syphilis a blood test is taken.
Why should I use condoms?
The important thing is to use condoms correctly and consistently.
To find out more, take a look at this video on how to put a condom on.
When correctly used each time, you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal, or sharing sex toys), condoms are the best way to reduce the risk of STIs and HIV.
Dams (sometimes known as dental dams) are a latex sheet that can be used for oral sex on an anus (rimming) or vagina to protect against STIs.
Remember to only use one side of the barrier; don’t flip it around and use the other side.
What if the condom breaks or I don’t use one?
If you have unprotected sex (without a condom) or a condom you are using breaks, call your nearest sexual health clinic for advice and for information on how and when to get an STI test.
If you are worried about HIV following unprotected sex or if a condom breaks, you may need to get PEP (see below).
What is PEP and where can I get it?
PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis.
PEP is a combination of HIV drugs that can stop the HIV virus taking hold. It can be used after the event if you’ve been at risk of HIV transmission.
To work, PEP must be taken within 72 hours (three days), and ideally should be taken within 24 hours.
PEP is an emergency measure to be used as a last resort, such as if a condom fails during sex. It is not guaranteed to work and taking PEP will not protect you from other sexually transmitted infections.
PEP is available on the NHS for free but is only given to people who meet guidelines about its use.
The best place to get PEP is a sexual health clinic. If you need PEP over the weekend or outside of office hours, when clinics will often be closed, the best place to go is an Accident and Emergency department.
PEP is not normally available from GPs.
What is PrEP and where can I get it?
PrEP is a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV.
Taking PrEP before being exposed to HIV means there’s enough drug inside you to block HIV if it gets into your body.
The medication used for PrEP is a tablet which contains tenofovir and emtricitabine (drugs commonly used to treat HIV).
PrEP is now available free on the NHS in England from sexual health clinics. For more information on PrEP, including details of your local service, visit the Open Clinic website.
It’s important if you’re using PrEP that you go for regular STI screenings every three months.
Why is lube important?
Lube reduces the risk of a condom breaking.
Different types of lubes are listed below:
- Silicone-based lubes: suitable for use with condoms but not sex toys.
- Water-based lubes: suitable for use with condoms and sex toys.
Avoid lubricants that are oil-based (e.g., petroleum jelly, baby oil), as these can damage condoms and cause them break. Some lipsticks and lip balms can also damage a condom after oral sex, so a new condom should be used for any other type of sex.
If you are thinking of having sex or are having a sexual relationship, registering for a C-Card will mean you always have access to free condoms and lube. To find out more about the C-Card and where to register click here.
Don’t forget about consent!
Consent means giving your permission for something to happen, and when we talk about sex, this means a person giving their permission (saying yes) to taking part in sex or sexual contact (this could be anything from kissing to anal sex).
Consent must be given for each sexual act by everyone involved. You shouldn’t feel pressured to do something you’re not comfortable with because someone assumes that’s what you should be into because of your sexuality or gender identity.
Click here to learn more about consent.