infection basics

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Sexual activity often involves getting close to another person. Being close allows infections present in one person to be passed on to the other. You can’t be much closer to anyone when you are sexually intimate, so it isn’t surprising if germs get spread that way.

There are at least 25 different STI’s. What they all have in common is that they can be spread by sex. This means:

bulletVaginal intercourse (where the penis penetrates the vagina)
bulletOral sex (where partners kiss or stimulates each other’s genitals with their tongues)
bulletAnal sex (where the penis penetrates the anus)


What’s special about sexually transmitted infections is that some of them can cause serious and permanent damage to your health if left untreated. Some STI’s can make people unable to have children, for instance, so it is important that all STI’s are diagnosed by a doctor and treated as soon as possible.


You don’t have to be ‘sleeping’ around to catch an STI, just about everyone who is having sex can get an infection. Even if you and your partner have been ‘faithful’ to each other for a long time, it is possible that one of you might suddenly discover an infection. This is because some infections can lie dormant in the body and often don’t cause symptoms for a long time. Just because one partner finds an infection doesn’t have to mean that the other has been ‘unfaithful’.

Obviously though, the more partners you have, the greater your chance that one of them will pass on an infection to you.


If you are infected, you or your partner may develop symptoms such as:

bulletunusual vaginal discharge
bulletdischarge from the penis
bulletsore or blister near vagina, penis or anus
bulletrash or irritation around the vagina, penis or anus
bulletpain or burning feeling on passing urine
bulletpassing urine more often than usual
bulletpain when you have sexual intercourse

On the other hand, you may have no symptoms at all. In this case you could know, if your partner had an infection and told you about it. This might happen after your partner has attended a GUM clinic and been asked to tell you about it so that you can go too. The clinic may even have given your partner a slip of paper for you to take when you go to the clinic.

Another way to find out if you have an STI is to go to a clinic just for a check up, even if you think you are OK


You need to see a doctor if you think you might have an infection, and expert help is available at any Sexually Transmitted Infection Clinic. They are often called Departments of Genito-Urinary Medicine or G.U.M. Clinics.

Remember that clinics treat all information as EXTREMELY confidential. Unless you give your permission not even your GP will be told that you have been there.


There are several things you can do which, together, help to make sex safer. If you want to avoid STI’s including AIDS, then you might find the following helpful:

bulletget to know your partners before you have sex. This lets you talk with each other about how to protect yourselves.
bulletif either of you has symptoms, including cold sores on your lips, don’t have sex until after you have been treated.
bulletget some condoms and learn how to use them properly. Use only condoms that carry the kitemark of the British Standards Institution, and use a spermicide at the same time. The spermicide may help to kill the virus that causes AIDS.
bullethave routine check ups at the STI clinic.
bullettell your partner if you have an infection. That way your partner can be treated too, and won’t pass the infection back to you.

Sex is a normal and healthy part of life but does need thought and preparation.

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