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
Can a sexually transmitted infection (STI) be transmitted from woman to woman?
Yes. You can still get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from sexual activity between women. Oral sex and sharing sex toys are two of the more common ways women who have sex with women can get an STI, but some STIs can be passed on through intimate skin-to-skin contact and mutual masturbation too. It’s worth getting checked out regularly, see how often below.
What are common STI symptoms?
Some signs you may have an STI include:
- an unusual discharge from the vagina or anus
- pain when peeing
- lumps or skin growths around the genitals or bottom (anus)
- a rash
- unusual vaginal bleeding
- itchy genitals or anus
- blisters and sores around your genitals or anus
- warts around your genitals or anus
- warts in your mouth or throat, but this is rare
If you have some of these symptoms, it doesn’t always mean you have an STI. Other infections such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis can cause similar symptoms, so it’s worth visiting your GP or nearest sexual health clinic if you’re worried.
To find your nearest sexual health clinic visit www.openclinic.org.uk/clinics
You should go to 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
- you’re pregnant with symptoms of an STI
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 our latest video on how to use condoms correctly.
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.
How can I make sex safer?
When correctly used each time you have sex, condoms/ dams are the best protection against STIs and HIV.
Dams (sometimes known as dental dams) are a latex sheet that can be used for oral sex on a vagina or anus to protect against STIs.
Remember to only use one side of the barrier against the skin; don’t flip it around and use the other side.
If using sex toys, use a new condom for each person.
Do I need a smear test?
Yes. It’s important for women and people with a cervix to attend cervical screening (smear test) when they are invited.
If you’ve never had sex, or have only had sex with women, you can still develop abnormal cells. If these are left untreated, they may lead to cervical cancer.
Read more about smear tests, including how often you should be getting one, on the www.nhs.uk/cervicalscreening.
If you are registered with a GP, you will receive a cervical screening invitation letter. Try not to put off booking this appointment, it’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.
If you’re not registered with a GP, contact your local sexual health clinic.
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.