Sexually transmitted infection FAQs

You'll find on this page the most frequently asked questions about STIs. If you can't find what you're looking for, you can get in touch with Ask Brook. Ask Brook is confidential. That means we won't tell anyone you contacted us unless we think you're in really serious danger.

How will I know if I've got an STI?
What will they do to me in a test?
What happens if the test says I have an STI?
How can I protect myself from STIs?
I had sex without a condom a year ago, but I've never had symptoms. Could I still have an STI?
Can you get an STI from oral sex?
Can you get an STI from sharing sex toys?
Should I have a test if I change partner?
What if I have an STI and don’t get treatment?
I've always used a condom, does that mean I couldn't have an STI?

How will I know if I've got an STI?

Different STIs have very different symptoms. And some have no symptoms at all. But if you can see or feel symptoms, these can include an unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, heavy periods or bleeding between periods, pain or burning sensation when passing urine, rashes, itching or tingling around the genitals or anus. 

What does a test involve?

Tests for STIs vary. Some can mean just taking a swab from the cervix or tip of the penis. Sometimes you can swab yourself, other times a doctor or nurse will do the swab. Others involve taking a blood sample. Lots of services also offer urine testing for some infections so you may be asked to give a sample of uriine (pee) for testing.

Before you get tested you can see a health advisor. They can talk you through what will happen with the tests and anything you are worried about. They can also give you information about how to avoid infections in the future.

If you are getting tested for HIV because you are worried that you may have been at risk, you'll usually be offered some counselling before the test. That's to help you prepare for how you may feel and react if the test result is positive. 

What happens if the test says I have an STI?

If you test positive for any STI, your clinic will encourage you to talk to your current partner and sometimes to your previous partners. This is so they can also be tested. And remember, most STIs are treatable with antibiotics. 

How can I protect myself from STIs?

The best form of protection is to use a condom. And you can use a condom with any other form of contraception for the ultimate in safer sex. 

I had unprotected sex over a year ago and I've never had any symptoms, could I still have an STI?

Sometimes there are no symptoms or they may not appear for months or may disappear when there is still an infection. The only way to be sure is to have a test at a GUM clinic, Brook service or CASH clinic. To find your nearest clinc contact Ask Brook. 

Can you get sexually transmitted infections from oral sex?

Yes. Some sexually transmitted infections, including Chlamydia, Genital Herpes, Gonorrhoea, Genital Warts and HIV, are passed on through oral sex (kissing, licking or sucking someone's genitals). To reduce the risk of infection, you can use a condom for oral sex. Dental dams (thin squares of latex) can also be used as a barrier during contact between the mouth and the vagina, or the mouth and the anus. Contact your local GUM (Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinic) for further details. 

Can you get sexually transmitted infections from sharing sex toys?

It is possible to transmit some infections through sharing sex toys, but as different infections are spread in different ways, we would suggest that you seek specialist advice from a health adviser at a Genito-Urinary Medicine clinic. 

Should I have a test if I change partner?

Yes. Although some people get symptoms when they have an STI, lots of people don’t get any symptoms at all. So it’s best to have a full STI check whenever you change partner. If you’re starting a new relationship, you and your partner may both want to get tested, especially if you won’t be relying on condoms for contraception. Of course it’s always best to use condoms alongside another method of contraception to protect against STIs. 

What if I have an STI and don’t get treatment?

If you have an STI and don’t get treated for it, it can be passed on to other people through sexual activities. Every infection is different, but generally, leaving an STI untreated can also make it worse. STIs like genital warts can be really uncomfortable, and can be treated easily to help stop the itchiness and unattractive warts. Chlamydia can spread to other parts of the body if not treated, and cause further complications like PID, which can lead to infertility. So the sooner you get treated for an infection, the easier it tends to be to treat, and the better in the long run. 

I've always used a condom, so does this mean I can't have a sexually transmitted infection?

Using condoms reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections. However, different infections are spread in different ways, for instance condoms may not prevent the transmission of genital warts if the condom does not compltely cover the infected area. We would suggest that you seek specialist advice from a health adviser at a GUM clinic if you are worried. 

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