If you have been in a long term relationship you may not have had to worry about sexual health or contraception for sometime. If you are thinking about re-dating it is wise to consider your sexual health in advance and make sure that you are fully prepared and armed with the information that you need to be safe.

However, before you move onto a new sexual relationship you it would be wise to get your own sexual health checked. This is perfectly ok to do even if you have been with the same partner for many years. This is easily available from your local GUM or Sexual Health Clinic.

Safe Sex. what you need to know

STIs

STI stands for Sexually Transmitted Infection. Anyone who has unprotected sex puts themselves at risk. STIs include Genital Herpes, Syphilis, Hepatitis B, HIV and Chlamydia.

Condoms

The only way to protect yourself from the risk of catching an STI is by using a condom. You should use a new condom every time you have sex and take care when putting it on so that it does not tear. Remember that anyone can have an STD and look perfectly well, there is no way of telling just by looking at someone or asking them.

Women can carry condoms as well as men, don't assume that it is a man's responsibility. When you buy them look for the European CE mark as these have been tested for strength and durability. Condoms come in different flavours, sizes, textures and types so if one doesn't work for you try another. Condoms are also available for those sensitive to spermicide or rubber. Ask at your local family planning clinic or pharmacy for details.

Check-up

You get a check-up at any NHS GUM or sexual health clinic for free. Just look online for your nearest clinic or ring your local hospital or GP surgery and ask. It is best to get a check-up at a clinic rather than through your GP as it is confidential and will only go on your medical record if you give explicit consent for it to do so. You will also be seen by a team of specialists and treatment can be immediate where lotions are creams are required.

There are a number of online testing services now. You are sent a kit through the post, post it back and then are sent a text message or email with a link to a confidential login where you can get your results. This may suit you better if you are embarrased or find the the clinic times make it impractical to attend during the day.

Treatment

Treatment will vary depending upon the condition. It may require topical lotions or cream or antibiotics.

Emergency Contraception

UP TO 72 HOURS after unprotected sex you can take the emergency contraceptive pill. This is 96% effective and involves taking 2 pills within the first 72 hours and then 2 further pills 12 hours later. The pills may have minor side effects including nausea or sickness so ask for anti nausea tablets if you are concerned. Emergency contraceptive pills should not be used as a regular method of birth contro

Pregnancy

If you think you might be pregnant find out for sure as soon as possible. Don't let the fear of a positive test result put you off and don't assume that if you wait for long enough then your period will turn up. If there's even a slim chance that you might be pregnant, you need to find out early in order to keep all your options open. You can buy a pregnancy test over the chemist counter, or get one at the family planning clinic.

If you find out that you are pregnant don't panic. The first thing that you need to do is make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor will discuss all the options with you and should be supportive whatever you decide to do. NB: If your period is late and your pregnancy test is negative you should make an appointment to have a check-up anyway.

Never Assume..

  • I'll be safe as long as he doesn't come inside me - the withdrawal method, also known as coitus interruptus, is not only an unsatisfactory method for both partners, but also offers no protection against pregnancy or STDs as drops of fluid containing sperm may leak beforehand.
  • I can't get pregnant whilst I'm on my period - natural family planning methods are not 100% safe, and you could still get pregnancy whilst having a period, particularly if your periods are irregular although the chances are slight. There is also an increased risk of contracting HIV if you have unprotected intercourse during a period.
  • I'll be safe just this once - if you have unprotected sex, even just once, you are putting yourself at risk of starting an unwanted pregnancy and of contracting an STI.
  • My partner has only had a few partners so it's ok - he or she may well have limited their partners, but did the people they slept with? A previous partner may have just slept with just one, they may have had a hundred - there is no way of knowing. It would only have taken one of these to have had an STI to put you at risk.