Sexual health

Having good sexual health includes feeling comfortable with your sexuality, the kinds of sex you are having and who you are having sex with.

It is important to be aware of some risks associated with being sexually active, and how to prevent those risks. This can be an unplanned pregnancy or catching a sexually transmitted infection known as an STI.

How can I prevent becoming pregnant?

Contraceptive methods allow you to choose when and whether you want to have a baby. There are many methods to choose from and it is important to find the one that best suits you. Barrier methods such as condoms are a form of contraception that help protect against both sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. Information about the different types of contraception can be found on the NHS Choices website .

Abortion advice and support is provided by your GP who will be able to advice about the options that you have and the available services.

Where can I get contraception?

Contraception is free from the NHS in the UK, you can find out where you can get contraception and emergency contraception in the information section below.

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if your contraceptive method has failed – for example, a condom has split or you've missed a pill. There are two types the emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the morning after pill) and the IUD (intrauterine device, or coil). Both types of emergency contraception are effective at preventing pregnancy if they are used soon after unprotected sex.

All pharmacies provide the emergency contraceptive pill, some pharmacies provide it free of charge. However please call to check as the pharmacies offering the free service can change. Please also check with your local pharmacy that the appropriate dispensing pharmacist is available at the time of your visit.  

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

STIs are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital contact. There are different types of STIs, many can be easily treated by a course of antibiotics but can cause long-term damage if left untreated. The most common one is chlamydia, but there are others. For information about the different types of STIs go to the NHS Choices website  or the iCaSH - Integrated Contraception and Sexual Health website

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which attacks the immune system, and weakens your ability to fight infections and disease. It's most commonly caught by having sex without a condom. But it can also be passed on by sharing infected needles and other injecting equipment, and from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.

There is no cure for HIV, but there are treatments to enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, when your body can no longer fight life-threatening infections. With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people with HIV will not go on to develop AIDS.

How can I prevent catching STIs?

When condoms are used correctly during vaginal sex, they help to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  When used correctly during anal and oral sex, they help to protect against STIs. Condoms are the only contraception that protect against pregnancy and STIs. For more information about condoms and reducing the risk of catching a STI when having other types of sex go to the NHS Choices website  or the iCaSH - Integrated Contraception and Sexual Health website

Information and support for sexual health

Forgotten your pill or had unprotected sex? Maybe you're worried about something?  Find out what you need to do and where to go if you need help urgently.

The Family Planning Association has information about contraception

For information about contraception and sexually transmitted infections go to NHS Choices or the Integrated Contraception and Sexual Health website

or information and advice - British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH)      

For information about HIV and other sexual health issues go to DhiverseThe Kite Trust and Terence Higgins Trust.

Contraception and sexual health services

The following all provide information, advice and services for sexual health

  • GPs
  • Contraception clinics (also known as family planning clinics)
  • Integrated Sexual Health Service which provides genitourinary medicine and contraception clinics
  • Pharmacies
  • Sexual assault referral centres
  • Young people's services

If you are not sure which service is right for you, call NHS 111 who will be able to advise you.

You can be tested for STIs at a sexual health, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or GP surgery. Contraception may be provided by your GP, family planning clinic or contraception clinic. There are special clinics for young people which may be at the usual clinics but also in schools or other 'young people's' locations.

The NHS Choices website will help you find a convenient clinic for both contraception and STI treatment - search for a clinic near you or use the iCaSH - Integrated Contraception and Sexual Health website