If you have been in a long term relationship you may not have had to worry about sexual health or contraception for sometime. If you are thinking about re-dating it is wise to consider your sexual health in advance and make sure that you are fully prepared and armed with the information that you need to be safe.
However, before you move onto a new sexual relationship you it would be wise to get your own sexual health checked. This is perfectly ok to do even if you have been with the same partner for many years. This is easily available from your local GUM or Sexual Health Clinic.
Safe Sex. what you need to know
- STD stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease (sometimes called STI - Sexually Transmitted Infection). Anyone who has unprotected sex puts themselves at risk. STDs include Genital Herpes, Syphilis, Hepatitis B, HIV and Chlamydia.
The only way to protect yourself from the risk of catching an STD is by using a condom. You should use a new condom every time you have sex and take care when putting it on so that it does not tear. Remember that anyone can have an STD and look perfectly well, there is no way of telling just by looking at someone or asking them.
Women can carry condoms as well as men, don't assume that it is a man's responsibility. When you buy them look for the European CE mark as these have been tested for strength and durability. Condoms come in different flavours, sizes, textures and types so if one doesn't work for you try another. Condoms are also available for those sensitive to spermicide or rubber. Ask at your local family planning clinic or pharmacy for details.
Look out for one of the following
. Unusual vaginal discharge, change in colour, thickness, smell
. Discharge from the penis or anus
. Sores, blisters or a rash
. Pain or burning on passing water, or more frequently
. Pain when you have intercourse
. Itchiness or tingling around the genital area or anus
. General flu like symptoms, temperature, sore throat, back ache
You may have no symptoms at all so if you have unprotected sex you should go for a check-up
You can visit your GP, but a GUM (Genito Urinary Medicine) clinic is probably best as they have specially trained doctors and the facilities to carry out a full range of tests. It also offers total confidentiality with no details appearing on your medical records. Treatment could include antibiotics and lotions. If you are treated it is vitally important that you tell any sexual partners to go for a check-up as they could be carrying the disease even if they do not have symptoms.
Chlamydia is the most common yet least known about STD. It does not usually have any symptoms and men and women can carry the disease for years without knowing. If left untreated it can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) in women which can lead to serious complications and infertility.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that can cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) a terminal condition. It is passed by an exchange of bodily fluids including blood, semen, vaginal and cervical fluids and breast milk. People with HIV look and feel perfectly well for years and may not even know that they have the virus. The only safe way to protect yourself is by using a condom.
For HIV testing it is best to visit a Gum clinic as opposed to your GP as otherwise it will be noted on your medical records and may affect any future life insurance applications.
- Emergency Contraception
UP TO 72 HOURS after unprotected sex you can take the emergency contraceptive pill. This is 96% effective and involves taking 2 pills within the first 72 hours and then 2 further pills 12 hours later. The pills may have minor side effects including nausea or sickness. The pills may not work if:
. You take the first two pills more than 72 hours after unprotected sex
. You had unprotected sex earlier in your menstrual cycle
. You have unprotected sex after taking the pills
. You vomit within 3 hours of taking the pills
If you are sick within 3 hours of taking them then see your doctor for repeat pills or an emergency IUD. Anti sickness pills can be given on prescription. Read the instruction booklet carefully before taking the pills. Emergency pills are available from your GP, Gum clinic, family planning clinic, some accident and emergency departments and some pharmacies.
Emergency contraceptive pills should not be used as a regular method of birth control.
UP TO 5 DAYS after unprotected sex an IUD (Coil) can be fitted to prevent pregnancy. It is almost 100% effective and can provide long term contraception or be removed when you have had your period. IUDs can be fitted by some GPs and the family planning clinic.
If you think you might be pregnant find out for sure as soon as possible. Don't let the fear of a positive test result put you off and don't assume that if you wait for long enough then your period will turn up. If there's even a slim chance that you might be pregnant, you need to find out early in order to keep all your options open. You can buy a pregnancy test over the chemist counter, or get one done by your GP or at the family planning clinic.
If you find out that you are pregnant don't panic! The first thing that you need to do is make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor will discuss all the options with you and should be supportive whatever you decide to do. NB: If your period is late and your pregnancy test is negative you should make an appointment to have a check-up anyway.
- Never Assume..
I'll be safe as long as he doesn't come inside me - the withdrawal method, also known as coitus interruptus, is not only an unsatisfactory method for both partners, but also offers no protection against pregnancy or STDs as drops of fluid containing sperm may leak beforehand.
. I can't get pregnant whilst I'm on my period - natural family planning methods are not 100% safe, and you could still get pregnancy whilst having a period, particularly if your periods are irregular although the chances are slight. There is also an increased risk of contracting HIV if you have unprotected intercourse during a period.
. I'll be safe just this once - if you have unprotected sex, even just once, you are putting yourself at risk of starting an unwanted pregnancy and of contracting an STD.
. My partner has only had a few partners so it's ok - He or she may well have limited their partners, but did the people they slept with? A previous partner may have just slept with just one, they may have had a hundred - there is no way of knowing. It would only have taken one of these to have had an STD to put you at risk.
. You can't catch AIDS from oral sex - the risk is slight but you can catch the HIV infection through oral sex particularly if you have cuts and sores in your mouth. Condoms and dental dams are available for protection. Dental dams are placed over the vagina during oral sex and act as a barrier method.
Family Planning Association Sexual Health Screening (USA)
Online guide to sexual health including contraception and safe sex
Terrence Higgins Trust
For those affected by HIV or Aids and safe sex information
For discreet, accurate HIV testing please visit www.localstdtesting.com!