Welcome to The Sprout! Please sign up or login

Information » Health » Sexuality and Sexual Health » Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)



Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

If one person has an infection it can pass to another person through vaginal, anal or oral sex. This type of infection is known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Anyone who has sex can get a STI, whether they are male or female, heterosexual or homosexual. Not everyone who has a STI shows symptoms and sometimes they can go away and come back again.

If you suspect you have an STI, visit your GP immediately. Don’t be embarrassed; it is very important to your health to get treatment right away.

Types of STI

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs, but left untreated it can cause infertility. It is caused by bacteria found in semen and vaginal fluid which is easily passed from person to person during sexual activities.

Using a condom can reduce your chances of getting infected. At least half of all men and women infected show no symptoms at all. However symptoms can include:

  • For Women:
    • An unusual vaginal discharge
    • Pain when passing urine
    • Bleeding in between periods
    • Bleeding after or during sex
    • Lower abdominal pain
  • For Men
    • A white/cloudy and watery discharge from penis
    • Pain when passing urine
    • Painful swelling of the testicles

Chlamydia can also infect the eyes and the throat.

Treatment of Chlamydia is simple and effective – just a course of antibiotic tablets. Even if you don’t show any symptoms, you might want to get tested, especially if you have ever had unprotected sex or a partner has had an STI. Please visit your GP or sexual health clinic for a test.

Syphilis

Syphilis is relatively rare but can cause extremely serious health problems if left untreated.

It is caused by bacteria that can pass from one person to another through sexual contact. Using a condom can prevent the infection spreading during vaginal, anal and oral sex.

The symptoms of syphilis are the same in men and women but can be easily missed. They include:

  • Stage 1: one or more sores will appear on the body, usually around the genitals, anus or mouth. These are very infectious
  • Stage 2: painless rash, flat warty-growths on genitals and anus, flu-like illness, tiredness, loss of appetite and swollen glands, white patches in mouth and patchy hair loss

If left untreated for years, it can damage the heart, brain, eyes, bones and nervous system. It could be fatal at this stage.

Visit your GP or sexual health clinic for a test - treatment is a single antibiotic injection or a course of tablets, such as Penicillin.

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is becoming more and more common and can cause infertility if left untreated.

It is caused by bacteria that can pass between two people during sexual contact. Using a condom during vaginal, anal and oral sex will reduce your chances of catching or spreading the infection. It is also possible to pass the infection from the genital area to the eyes by fingers.

10 per cent of infected men and 50 per cent of infected women have no symptoms.

Symptoms for women include:

  • An unusual vaginal discharge – thick, watery or yellow/green in colour
  • Pain when passing urine
  • Lower abdominal pain

Symptoms for men include:

  • A white, yellow or green discharge from tip of penis
  • Pain when passing urine
  • Pain in the testicles

You won’t know if you have the infection without a test, which can be done by your local GP or sexual health clinic. Treatment is very effective, involving a single dose of antibiotics.

Genital warts

Genital warts are the most common STI. They are caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV) and are passed from one person to another by sexual contact.

There are over 100 types of HPV and different types affect different parts of the body, such as hands, feet or genitals. They can be visible or invisible. Most infected people have no symptoms and no visible warts. Visible warts vary and can be small, fleshy growths or bumps to large pink cauliflower-like lumps. They are usually very tiny and painless.

In most cases, a doctor or nurse can just look at your body to see if you have the virus. Genital warts can be removed by painting a liquid chemical on them, using a cream at home, freezing (cryotherapy), heat (electrocautery), surgery or laser treatment.

Pubic lice

Pubic lice (sometimes called crabs) are tiny parasitic insects that live in pubic hair. They are yellow-grey, about 2mm long and have a crab-like appearance.

‘Nits’ are the eggs which appear as brownish dots fixed to the hair. Pubic lice are easily passed from one person to another by close body contact or sexual activity. Some people may not notice the lice or eggs in their hair.

Other symptoms include:

  • Itching or irritation in affected area
  • Black powdery lice droppings in underwear
  • Brown eggs on hair
  • Tiny specks of blood on skin
  • A doctor or nurse can check for lice simply by looking and they can be treated with a cream or shampoo.

    Scabies

    Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites that burrow into the skin and lay eggs. It is easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or sexual activity.

    Symptoms can include:

    • Intense itching
    • Itchy rash or tiny spots
    • Inflammation or raw skin

    The mites are impossible to see with the naked eye. A doctor or nurse can often tell if you have scabies by simply looking at your skin and it can be easily treated with a cream or lotion.

    Genital Herpes

    It is caused by a highly infectious virus spread through sexual contact. It can be easily passed from one person to another during sex with someone who is having an outbreak of genital herpes at the time or by skin-to-skin contact with a sore.

    Symptoms can include:

    • External or internal blisters or sores around genitals or anus, which quickly burst leaving small red sores
    • Stinging, tingling or itching in genital or anal area
    • Pain passing urine

    In most cases a doctor or nurse can tell you have herpes by looking but they may use a swab to collect a fluid sample too. Treatment involves taking antiviral tablets.

    HIV and AIDS

    HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is a viral infection that attacks the body’s immune system. In most cases, the immune system will need help from anti-HIV drugs to keep the virus under control, but they cannot cure the virus.

    AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome but is also known as advanced HIV. It describes the point when a person’s immune system can no longer cope because of the damage caused by HIV. People do not die of AIDS, they die from the cancers, pneumonia and other conditions the body cannot fight because of its weak immune system.

    HIV can be passed from one person’s blood stream into another’s in several ways:

    • Semen and seminal fluid released before ejaculation
    • Vaginal fluids, including menstrual fluids (periods)
    • Breast milk
    • Blood

    There are ways to reduce the risk:

    • Always use a condom during sexual activity and sexual intercourse. The risk is small during oral sex, but there is still a risk
    • Intravenous drug users (who inject into the body) should always use fresh needles and never share drug equipment with anyone else

    You cannot catch HIV from touching someone infected or sharing cups, glasses and cutlery, towels or toilet seats.

    A HIV test shows whether someone has the HIV infection. It is not a test for AIDS. It works by looking for the antibodies created by an infected person’s body and involves a simple blood test. Taking a test less than three months after possible infection might not give an accurate result as not enough antibodies may have been produced.

    There is currently no cure for HIV.


    Most sexually transmitted diseases don’t show any symptoms at all but can seriously damage your health. If you do suffer any symptoms or have had unprotected sex, it is important to consult your GP, family planning clinic or sexual health clinic as soon as possible to have a test and start any necessary treatment.

    The doctors and nurses have done the tests many times before so don’t be embarrassed. Your parents or guardian won’t be told and the tests are confidential.

    If you are suffering from an STI, contact past partners to inform them so they can also be tested.

    It might seem embarrassing but getting tested could save your life.

Related Media

Useful Links

Got something to say?

You must be logged in to post comments on this website.

Login or Register.

Please take a few minutes to complete this survey. It will help us find out how you use the website so we can keep improving it for you. Everyone who completes the survey will get the chance to win £50.