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Sexually transmitted diseases or STI’s

Please note that some of the language in this article is sexually explicit.

The Health Development Agency (HDA) is trying to reduce the levels of STI’s in the UK by:

  1. Offering STI prevention information with family planning services

  2. Partner contact and notification this is where health professionals contact patients’ sexual partners on their behalf.

  3. Education is an ongoing challenge to inform people about safe sex practices

STD’s and STI’s refer to
Sexually Transmitted Diseases or
Sexually Transmitted Infections

How are STI’s transmitted?

This covers a broad spectrum of infections and diseases which are transmitted through intimate sexual contact. The contact can be same sex, bisexual, and heterosexual and include penetrative vaginal, anal, oral sex as well as mutual masturbation.

Some of the infections can be passed on in different way

  1. Skin to skin

  2. Body fluids
    1. Semen

    2. Saliva

    3. Vaginal

    4. Blood


The STI’s can be

  • Viral i.e. Genital herpes

  • Bacterial i.e. Chlamydia

  • Parasitic i.e. pubic lice

How do I know if I have an STI?

If you suffer from any of the following symptoms it would be advisable to pay a visit to your doctor, Family planning clinic, Sexual health or GUM (Genitourinary Medicine) department.

  • A thick, or offensive, or discoloured  discharge from the penis, rectum or vagina

  • Itching or swelling around the penis or vagina

  • Irregular periods

  • Pain and  or  bleeding after sexual intercourse

  • Pain when passing urine

  • Low stomach pains

  • Spots, ulcers or skin growths on or around your genitals

It is thought that approximately one in ten sexually active young adults have an STI.
Most STIs are diagnosed on presentation of the symptoms and then more officially through blood, urine, and swab tests.

If you are sexually active and have had multiple partners it is advisable to be checked at regular intervals to avoid long term complications. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is very virulent that can leave the unsuspecting sufferer with pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility problems.

What is “normal” vaginal discharge?

This is often a query that comes up, your vagina discharge changes during the monthly cycle and it takes time to get to know what is and isn’t normal for you.
The amount of fluid discharged is usually only a small amount, and is the way the body maintains a clean and healthy environment. Douching is not recommended as this invariably alters the ph of the vagina and can cause vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina). The use of bath oils/ bubble bath and vaginal spermicidal can do the same; the normal vaginal ph is 3.8 to 4.5.

For most of the month the discharge will be clear or slightly milky and does not smell, in some ladies around ovulation time (when an egg is released) the discharge becomes slightly thicker. In other ladies just before their period is due the ph level changes and the symptoms of thrush may appear.

How do I find a GUM /FPA Clinic:

The clinics vary all over the country as to if they are drop-in centres or by appointment only. You do not need a letter from your family doctor to attend.
You can find about clinics from the phone book under GUM, STD, special clinic or sexual health clinic, or ring your local health centre or hospital.


What happens when I go to a GUM Clinic?

When people visit a GUM clinic you will be met by friendly staff who are non judgemental and who are there to help you. It can be nerve wracking or embarrassing initially to make the first step to go to the clinic but once there you will be able to relax; the staff will be very professional and friendly. Confidentiality is a priority and you will be reassured of this throughout your visit. Results from your tests will only be sent to your own doctor if you want them to (Some insurance companies may still ask your doctor “lifestyle” questions)
Initial visits usually last up to an hour and a half; visits after this are shorter.

Genitourinary medicine clinics usually have the facilities to do tests for all genital infections on site and for many they will be able to give you the results straight away, and the appropriate treatment.

Talking about your sex life might seem quite hard initially as you may feel embarrassed, the staff are very comfortable talking about sexual problems or incidents and you will be put at your ease, the more honest you can be means the doctor will be able to diagnose your condition more easily.

Information they will need from you will include:

  1. For ladies –the date of your last menstrual period

  2. And when you last had a cervical smear

  3. A urine specimen -  try not to have passed urine for if possible three hours prior to your appointment if you need to go while in the waiting room ask at reception if a specimen is required.-men and ladies (urine can wash away evidence of some infections)

The doctor will speak to you privately and ask you about your symptoms and medical history. You may also be asked about your recent sexual partners and how you came by the infection. The doctor will explain the procedure for taking the samples necessary to make a diagnosis; you will then be asked for you consent for them to be taken.  The samples may be taken from:

  1. The throat

  2. The vagina, the cervix which is the neck of the womb in ladies

  3. From the opening of the  urethra, where urine and semen come out for men

  4. From the anus

  5. Blood samples can also be taken

Diagnosis and treatment:

When the samples are taken it can feel a little uncomfortable but not painful. These samples will then be analysed under the microscope and you will be told the preliminary results the samples will then be sent off to the laboratory for more in depth testing. In the majority of cases the doctor will have been able to make a diagnosis and treatment which is free will be commenced. If you wish to be tested for HIV this can be done click here for more information.

There are always health advisors or councillors available to talk to if you wish to discuss any aspect of your treatment or your circumstances.

List of Sexually Transmitted Diseases:



Help lines such as:

NHS Direct -0845 46 47

NHS 24 in Scotland -0845 42 42 424

Sexual Health Wales
0845 604 8484
Mondays to Fridays, 8am - 8pm, Sat/Sun 10am -2pm Sexual Health Line
Family planning free helpline number is 0800 567 123 to find your nearest clinic.
You should be able to get an appointment within 48 hours of calling.

When you make contact with the clinic and make an appointment ask for clear instructions of how to get there and leave yourself plenty of time to get there when you go so you’re not rushed.
Numbers beginning with 0800- means the calls are free and do not show up on phone bills
Numbers beginning with 0345- are charged at local call rate
0800 numbers are NOT free from Mobile phones

Sexual Health Line

Free phone 0800 567 123
7 days a week, 24 hours a day
A 24/7, free and confidential telephone service with advice about HIV, AIDS, sexual health, sexually transmitted infections, local services, clinics and support services.

Free phone 0800 28 29 30
7 days a week, from 7am -12 midnight

Free and confidential advice line for young people under 18, on anything to do with sex, relationships and contraception.

Contraceptive Education Service provided by fpa
The Contraceptive Education Service provides a nationwide information service for men and women.

0845 310 1334 (England)
028 90 325 488 or 028 71 260 016 (Northern Ireland)
0141 576 5088 (Scotland)
Mondays to Fridays 9am-7pm

Sexual Health Wales
Provides information and advice on contraception and sexual health to young people in Wales.
0845 604 8484
Mondays to Fridays, 8am - 8pm, Sat/Sun 10am -2pm Sexual Health Line

Some pharmacists are able to supply the emergency contraception (EC) pill free.
At almost all pharmacies you can buy emergency contraception (EC) if you are aged 16 years and over. If they do not stock it they should know where you are able to obtain it.

Sexual terminology:

  • Anus- the opening of the back passage

  • Biopsy – a sample of tissue for examination

  • Cervix- the neck of the womb opening into the vagina

  • Genitals- the external reproductive organs

  • Penis- the male sex organ

  • Rectum- inside the back passage

  • Semen- sperm

  • Spatula – wooden or plastic instrument used to biopsy cells

  • Swab- a cotton bud used for taking samples

  • Testes- testicles, gonads

  • Urethra- the tube which carries urine from the bladder to the outside the body

  • Vagina- the female sex passage

  • Vulva – the lips outside the vagina
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