Everything You Need to Know about STIs

Most sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can be treated, but it's important to get tested if you've been at risk or have any symptoms.

If you are about to become sexually active or already have been, here is some information to help prevent STIs and to ensure you and your partner are being safe.

What is an STI?

Sexually transmitted infections are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital, oral or anal contact.

Anyone who has sex can get an STI, even if it's your first time, and you don’t need to have lots of sexual partners to catch something, or pass it on.

How can you avoid STIs?

The best way to avoid STI's is to use a barrier method of contraception. This means that you use a condom, a dam, or a femidom that acts as a physical barrier to prevent the transmission of STI's during sexual activity. 

You can also talk with your partner about STI's, sexual health and contraception use before having sex. This way you can make sure you're on the same page rather than leaving it up to one person, or just assuming that it will be okay. 

It's also healthy to get tested with your partner before you engage in sexual activity with the,. Many STIs have little or no symptoms, so it's safer and more responsible to get tested.

How would you know if you have an STI?

The only way to know for sure is to get tested.

You can get tested if you go to see your doctor, or visit your local sexual health clinic.

Both doctors and sexual health clinic staff are very discreet and are trained to deal with sensitive information professionally.

If you get tested at a sexual health clinic, the results of the test and the fact you've had a test will not appear on your medical records.

If you visit the GP when you're aged 13 or over, you have the same rights to confidentiality as an adult.

This means, unless the doctor or nurse thinks you or other people are at risk of harm, they can't disclose any information that you discuss with them - even to your parent(s) or carer(s).

When visiting the sexual health clinic you don't have to give your real name or address, or even phone number. However, it is a good idea to give the correct contact details such as a mobile phone number or email address in case they need to contact you regarding a test result.

Something's wrong down there - what could it be?

The only way to know for sure is to get tested - see your doctor, visit your nearest sexual health clinic or order a test kit online if anything changes or feels out of the ordinary. 

Googling your symptoms can be very overwhelming and make you feel more worried than before. STIs occur more often than you think and are nothing to be ashamed of. 

If you have any of the following symptoms it is a good idea to go and get tested for an STI:

  • A change in discharge from the vagina. While vaginas are self-cleaning if there is an unusual smell, colour or thickness of discharge it's best to get it checked even though it could be something like thrush of bacterial vaginosis which is very common but is not an STI.
  • Discharge from the penis or anus.
  • Pain when urinating or going for a pee.
  • Lumps, bumps and/or a rash around the genital area.
  • Vaginal bleeding that is unusual. For example, if you bleed when you're not on your period, or outside of your usual cycle, during sex or just after sex.
  • Itchiness around the genital area.
  • Sores or blisters around the genital area.
  • Inflammation or swelling of the foreskin. 

Ordering a test kit

HIV Self-Test Scotland offer a free service of self-testing kits that you can order online that deliver to your home. The self-test kits are easy to use and HIV Self Test Scotland have an online chat service during the day where you can speak to someone if you have any questions or want some advice.

For more information about ordering a HIV test kit visit the HIV Self Test Scotland website.

Who you can speak to if you're worried

The best place to contact when you want to chat about STI's is your local sexual health clinic. You can find your local sexual health clinic on the NHS website.

You can also reach out to other people;

  • A parent or trusted friend or adult. 
  • A doctor or a nurse, either at your GP or at any Sexual Health Clinic.
  • The National Sexual Health helpline from 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday on 0300 123 7123.
  • Call your local pharmacy, take a look on the NHS website if you're unsure where this is.
  • Call the LGBT Health helpline from 12pm to 9pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and from 1pm to 6pm on Thursdays and Sundays on 0300 123 2523.
  • Call Childline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 0800 11 11.

For more information about keeping your sexual health in check, visit our main page on sexual health.