What Is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?

Sexually Transmitted Infections, more commonly referred to as STIs, are infections passed most commonly through penetrative and oral sex, although some can also be transmitted through contact with an infected area, or if you touch something that an infected person has touched (such as sharing sex toys).

STIs are uncomfortable and can be painful, but many are treatable, and all are manageable. If you think that you have a sexually transmitted infection, you should go to a Sexual Health Clinic or order an online test as soon as possible. It’s recommended you get tested for sexually transmitted infections every 12 months, even if you are in a long-term and/or monogamous relationship. You should also get a test for sexually transmitted infections if you have recently changed sexual partners. You can get free testing online or from a local Sexual health clinic.

The UK’s Most Common sexually transmitted infections.

This is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK. A bacterial infection passed on through unprotected sex, sharing of unclean sex toys, genitals coming into contact with another’s genitals and more. It cannot be passed on through casual contact (kissing, hugging, sharing towels, toilet seats etc.). It is particularly common in teenagers and young adults. Symptoms include:

  • Pain when urinating.
  • Unusual discharge.
  • Bleeding after sex and bleeding between periods.
  • Pain and swelling in the testes.

Cases of Gonorrhoea have increased in the UK since the COVID pandemic, with a 21% increase in cases in 2022 compared to the same time in 2019. Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, painful infections in the testes and prostate gland and may affect fertility. It is passed through unprotected sex and sharing of unclean sex toys. It may also be transmitted through actions such as kissing and any other act that involves the transferring or sharing of bodily fluids, although this has not yet been definitively proven. STI testing is particularly important when it comes to gonorrhoea as 1 in 10 infected men and 5 in 10 infected women don’t experience any symptoms when they have it. Symptoms do include:

  • A thick green or yellow discharge.
  • Pain when urinating.
  • Bleeding between periods.

A virus caused by unprotected skin-to-skin contact and penetrative sex, and more uncommonly by oral sex and sharing of sex toys. Symptoms include:

  • One or more painless growths/ lumps around the genitals or anus.
  • Itching or bleeding from the genitals or anus.
  • A persistent change to normal period flow or urination.

Caused by a virus called ‘herpes simplex’, which will stay in your body permanently once contracted and can be triggered by things such as friction in the genital area, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Some triggers are unavoidable, however. It can be caught from skin-to-skin contact with the infected area, for example a cold-sore touches your genitals, infected fingers touching the genital area or sharing toys with someone who has herpes. Symptoms include:

  • Small blisters that burst to leave red, open sores around the genitals, anus or thighs.
  • Tingling, burning, or itching around the genitals.
  • Pain when urinating.
  • Unusual vaginal discharge.

A bacterial infection which can cause potentially life-threatening problems if not treated. It is usually passed on through unprotected sex or by coming into contact with a syphilis-induced ulcer. Can also be passed on by injecting drugs with a needle used by an infected person. Symptoms are often mild and hard to notice but can include:

  • Small sores (ulcers) on the penis, vagina, or anus. Usually painless and may only be one. May also get sores on the mouth, lips, or hands.
  • White or grey warty growths around the penis, vagina, or anus.
  • Rash on the palms or on the soles of the feet that may spread (not itchy usually).
  • White patches inside the mouth.
  • Flu-like symptoms (high temperature, headache, tiredness).
  • Swollen glands.
  • Patchy hair loss on the head and face.

Support with STIs and Testing

Find a sexual health clinic near you for help with STIs, support with contraceptives, free condoms and femidoms, and more. If you are concerned about your sexual health, you can also visit your local GP or call the national sexual health helpline for free on 0300 123 7123.

Free STI Testing

You can get up to four free STI tests per year delivered discreetly to your door by ordering them online from SH.UK. They test for Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, HIV, and Syphilis. You can also receive free testing for many STIs (including the ones discussed on this webpage) by visiting your local sexual health clinic. You can find out which clinic is closest to you by using the NHS sexual health clinic search.

Check out our upcoming events to see when the NHS sexual health service will next be on campus in Coventry.

Local Support

Integrated Sexual Health Services: a free confidential service based in Coventry that offers information about online testing, the C-Card scheme, healthy sex and relationships, and more.

Scarborough Sexual Health Centre: Scarborough’s local clinic, offering STI treatments and tests, a full range of contraception, free condoms, and other sexual-health-related services.

Sexual Health London: London’s local version of the SH.UK website – offers free regular and emergency contraception, as well as postal STI testing kits. SHL operates multiple clinics. The closest clinic to each campus is:

CU London Dagenham: SHL Hub Clinic at Barking Community Hospital.

London Greenwich: SHL Hub Clinic at the Waldron Health Centre.

If you want to find more SHL clinics throughout London, you can see a map of all London SHL clinics here.

Useful Links and Resources

Brook - an organisation with a website which has a lot of information on sexual health, STIs, contraception and what to do if you’ve had unprotected sex and might need emergency contraception.

NHS Sexual Health Pages - the NHS’ official guidance on sexual health and STIs.

Powered by MSL