Sexual health means more than being free of sexually transmitted infections or avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. It means having the confidence and skills to ask for the sex that makes you feel good.
It also means respecting your partners and taking responsibility for their sexual health as well as your own. Some of us have STIs that cannot be cured (such as HIV, or herpes) or that we live with long term (like hepatitis B or hepatitis C). We can still have healthy, happy sex lives and good sexual health if these infections have been diagnosed and are being treated and the sex we have is protected.
What is protected sex?
Protected sex means using a male or female condom during sex if one of you has HIV and a detectable viral load. Condoms should be used with water-based lubricant as oil-based lube weakens them. HIV treatment is also a form of protection. If you have an undetectable viral load you cannot pass on HIV. It can take up to six months on treatment to become undetectable. It’s important to remember that if you have sex without a condom other STIs can be passed on. Sex without a condom can also result in an unplanned pregnancy if other contraception is not being used.
Where do I go for sexual health advice?
Good sexual health depends on regular check-ups and knowing about protected sex. Check-ups will make sure any STIs are quickly diagnosed and treated. Most people get checked at a sexual health clinic, which is usually part of a hospital. You can go on your own or with a friend or partner and you don’t need to be sent by a doctor. It’s a free and confidential service, and staff should be friendly and not judge you. Health advisers are clinic staff who aren’t doctors but you can talk to them about a wide range of things to do with sex and relationships. You can choose which clinic you go to.
Privacy of your health records
Some people prefer to get checked by their DOCTOR (family doctor) if the surgery offers this service (if not, you’ll be referred by your doctor to a clinic). Choose wherever you feel most comfortable. Clinics are confidential and no-one is told of your visit or what tests and treatment you receive. If you go to your doctor any test and treatments will go on your medical notes.
How often should I get tested?
How often you should be checked depends upon how many people you have sex with: If you don’t have a regular partner and you have casual sex you should go at least once every six months. If you have lots of sexual partners have a check-up more often than every six months. If you get any symptoms that may be an STI (eg, sores, inflammation or discharge), go to a clinic straight away and don’t have sex until given the all-clear.
Before having sex at the start of a new relationship – have a check-up, especially if you’re thinking about not using condoms (then HIV tests are strongly recommended). A sexual health screen should also include an HIV test.
If you have HIV it’s important to find out whether your viral load is undetectable before considering sex without a condom. Remember that having sex without a condom can lead to other STIs being passed on