Staying Safe


The easiest way to avoid a sexually transmitted infection is to stay safe and use a condom. The other way is not to have any sex at all but that does not sound like much fun! If you are a bit embarrassed about going into a shop to buy a box of condoms or if you are afraid of being noticed making a purchase from a vending machine then there are places online where you can either buy condoms for home delivery or even get them free of charge. 

Even if you use a condom, you cannot be sure that you have not contracted an STI: it is called safer sex, not safe sex. However, if you do not use a condom and you are not in a monogamous relationship where both parties have had a full sexual health screen then you are putting yourself at risk. There are a number of sexually transmitted infections but here are the most common in the UK.


Chlamydia is a bacterium that is passed through sexual contact. You can get Chlamydia in the urethra, vagina, rectum and eye. It is also possible to have a chlamydia infection in the throat. Chlamydia quite often does not have any symptoms so you may not know that you have it unless you get tested. Testing is very easy: men provide a urine sample and women have a vaginal swab taken. 


Gonorrhoea is also a bacterial infection but it is much less common than chlamydia. Most men will develop symptoms within around 5 days of catching gonorrhoea. The symptoms include a pain while passing urine and a urethral discharge. Gonorrhoea can be very painful. Around half of infected women will not have symptoms so may not know that anything is wrong. Gonorrhoea can cause a lot of complications if not treated. The treatment is antibiotic therapy. Most doctors will recommend an injection of a cephalosporin antibiotic called Ceftriaxone along with an oral medication called Azithromycin. If you are allergic to either of these types of antibiotics then you will be given an alternative.

Genital Warts

Genital warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus. There are a number of HPV viruses and the ones that cause genital warts are not the same ones that cause cervical cancer. A large number of people are carriers of HPV but this does not mean that they have warts at any given time. A majority of the population will have come into contact with the HPV virus but it is only if they develop warts that they require treatment. The treatments include Warticon - a cream that burns the wart away. You have to be careful not to get the Warticon on your healthy skin. It is also possible to be vaccinated against the strand of HPV that causes genital warts and most schoolgirls are vaccinated at 12 - 13 years of age. The vaccine is called Gardasil. Boys can only be vaccinated privately in the UK as it is not publicly funded.  The theory is that vaccinating the girls will produce community immunity but not gay community immunity, obviously. There is definitely an argument for vaccinating boys too.


HIV is not as prevalent in the UK as the other infections mentioned above and it is more difficult to get infected with this virus. HIV is blood-borne and you cannot get it from kissing or sharing glasses or cutlery. It is a myth that HIV is a gay disease or that it only affects drug users who inject. Everyone is at risk but clearly some activities are more risky than others. Using a condom is recommended and you should get tested if you have had a risky event.  Some clinics can give you instant test results within a minute but these are less accurate than laboratory testing with 4th generation lab equipment. The most up to date tests can give you a definite result 6 weeks after exposure.

Getting Tested

One of the major barriers to getting tested is the embarrassment factor. People will avoid going to a sexual health clinic in case they are seen by someone and some are even embarrassed to talk to trained professionals about their sexual health. There are very good online services but unfortunately there are none that provide full testing that are publicly funded. You can get tested through the website of a high street pharmacy like Lloyds or you can use a dedicated provider like These services are not cheap but they are not going to break the bank either. If you are embarrassed about getting tested then these services are a good alternative to going to a GUM clinic.