Sexual health facts
Taking care of your sexual health and wellbeing is a priority. Making sure you're protected from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is an important lifestyle habit to get into, whether you're in long-term relationships or not. Here are a few of our tips to help you maintain a healthy sex life.
1. Condoms are your friendRead more
Make sure you always put on a condom before any contact between the penis and vagina, mouth or anus. Use a new condom every time you have sex, including oral sex. You are still able to get STIs such as HIV, syphilis, herpes, gonorrhoea and chlamydia from unprotected oral sex.
Condoms aren’t built to last long sessions. Make sure you change condoms after 30 minutes – too much friction can weaken and break the condom.
Using two condoms at a time (two male condoms or one male and one female condom) will weaken them because of the friction. Make sure to use one at a time to avoid this and stay correctly protected.
If you are planning on having sex abroad, make sure you pack condoms with you so that you can avoid barriers like language problems, which can prevent you from staying protected.
If you want to lubricate, make sure you opt for water-based lubricant – you can buy great lubes from your local pharmacy. Don’t use oil-based products like baby oil, body oil or Vaseline with condoms; they will damage the condom, making it less effective.
Buying condoms from auction sites like eBay are not recommended. Make sure you buy them from trusted suppliers and check that they have the BSI kite mark or CE mark to show they’re approved. Check the expiration date on the packaging to make sure you have condoms that will work. Condoms that are out of date are less likely to be effective, which puts you at an increased risk of becoming pregnant or catching an STI.
2. Choose the right contraception for you!Read more
It's easy to feel overwhelmed about which contraception method to use. From the pill to implants and injections that have a longer effect, you need to make a well informed decision on how you can avoid becoming pregnant if you're not ready for a baby.
Condoms are 98% effective in preventing unplanned pregnancy. For every 100 women that use condoms during sex, only two are likely to become pregnant. Condoms don’t just prevent pregnancies, they also prevent STIs during penetrative (vaginal and anal) and oral sex. Make sure to avoid oil-based lubricants with condoms as this will weaken and break the condom - be sure to use water-based lubricant. There are alternatives to latex condoms if you are allergic (such as polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms).
This is a well-known contraceptive method that can prevent unplanned pregnancies. The pill has artificial versions of oestrogen and progesterone – hormones that women naturally produce. The artificial hormones help to prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. If taken correctly, the pill is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Similar to the pill, the implant releases oestrogen and progesterone into the system. A safe and long lasting contraceptive, the implant is a popular choice for women who want to prevent pregnancy. The implant is injected into your arm and sits there for up to three years. You can feel it but it should not move and is safe. The implant is more than 99% effective in preventing unplanned pregnancies.
The contraceptive patch
Another way of preventing pregnancy is by using the contraceptive patch. This method is non-invasive and works in the same way as the implant or pill – it releases the same hormones to stop the production of eggs. This method is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
The contraceptive injection
This is an injection that acts in the same way as other contraceptive methods. Progesterone is injected into you, which prevents contraception as well as preventing the release of eggs. This method can last for eight, 12 or 13 weeks depending on the type of injection – the most common is the Depo injection, this lasts for 12 weeks. This method is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
The IUD, also known as the coil, is a T-shaped plastic and copper device that’s inserted into your womb by a trained nurse or doctor. This method stops the survival of the sperm and eggs in the womb, as well as preventing a fertilised egg from developing. This method is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy and can last for five to 10 years depending on the type.
3. Sex and relationshipsRead more
Sex is good for your health. There are many benefits, from the exercise you get and reducing your blood pressure to reducing the risk of heart disease, relieving stress and having a stronger immune system. Here are the benefits of sex and relationships.
Hug the stress away
We’re aware that sex has benefits, but hugs are also good for you. Embracing your partner with a hug can lower your heart rate, decrease blood pressure and give you that warm fuzzy feeling that makes you feel happy on the inside!
A healthy sex life means a healthy heart
Sex can help you have a healthy heart. The faster your heart beats, the harder your body is working and the more intense an activity or exercise is, and sex works in the same way. It’s suggested that adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity a week – sex can count towards this (maybe not all 150 minutes).
Strengthen your immune system
People who have sex more regularly are more likely to have a stronger immune system. Researchers found that people who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of antibodies that help to fight illness.
There are the physical benefits of sex, but what about your overall wellbeing? Researchers found that people who have more sex are more likely to feel healthier. It’s not all doom and gloom if sex isn’t something that’s important to you, love is also important. People who were in a relationship or marriage were more likely to say their health was either very good or excellent.
We all experience stress, it might be traffic that sets you off or the phone just does not seem to stop ringing. Not dealing with stress can have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. Sex has been shown to reduce stress. People who have sex had a smaller rise in blood pressure, which helped them to cope well with stress. This also includes intimacy or orgasm without penetration – people said they felt relaxed.
Being just friends also helps
It’s okay if you’re single – your friends contribute towards your lifestyle. From positive influences on your lifestyle to giving you emotional support when you’re not feeling yourself your friends can be a huge help to your wellbeing.
4. Sexually Transmitted InfectionsRead more
STIs are contracted by having unprotected sex or genital contact with an infected person. STIs affect the body in different ways, from decreasing your immune system to potentially affecting your fertility if not treated earlier. Below are some common STIs and the symptoms to make you more aware of the risks of unprotected sex.
If you’re a woman, chlamydia can cause a burning sensation when you urinate, as well as some vaginal discharge, abdominal pain and impact on your period. This is similar for men, who experience a burning sensation when urinating with a white, cloudy or watery discharge. Testicles may also feel tender. Chlamydia can be tested for using a urine sample and a swab test of the affected area.
Genital warts are the second most common STI in England after Chlamydia. These are small warts that appear on or around your genital or anal area. The warts are painless but can cause itching or redness, occasionally they can cause bleeding. This STI is spread through skin-to-skin contact and you, therefore, don’t need to have penetrative sex to be infected. Genital warts are easily treated, including creams and freezing warts using cryotherapy.
Also referred to as just herpes, this is the same virus that causes cold sores. You may develop some of the symptoms a few days after coming into contact with the virus. Symptoms include small, painful blisters or sores that cause itching, as well as finding it painful when urinating. The virus remains dormant once infected but can be reactivated by triggers. Genital herpes has no cure but is controlled using antiviral medication.
About 50% of women and 10% of men who are infected with gonorrhoea don’t experience any symptoms and are therefore don’t know they have it. For men, gonorrhoea can cause a burning sensation when urinating, as well as discharge from the tip of the penis and pain or tenderness in testicles. Women experience similar symptoms, experiencing a burning sensation when urinating, vaginal discharge and pain in the lower abdomen. Gonorrhoea can easily be tested for using urine samples and a swab test in the affected areas. If infected, you can easily treat it with antibiotics. Leaving gonorrhoea untreated over a long period of time can lead to long-term health consequences, including infertility.
Syphilis is a staged bacterial infection. Early symptoms of syphilis include painless but infectious sores on your genitals or around the mouth; these can last for up to six weeks before disappearing. Following this, symptoms include a rash, flu-like symptoms and hair loss. The latter stage of syphilis occurs after several years of being infected and can cause serious health issues such as heart problems, paralysis and blindness. The symptoms of syphilis are not always easy to recognise, but a blood test can detect the infection at any stage. Syphilis can be easily treated to prevent the later stages and avoid serious health consequences.
Usually passed on through unprotected sex, and is present in vaginal fluid, pre-ejaculate semen and the lining of the anus, Transmission can also occur through the transfer of blood and in breast milk. HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system, which consequently makes it more difficult for your body to fight future infections and disease. Getting tested for HIV is quick and easy – all that’s needed is a blood sample. Some clinics may offer a quick finger-prick blood test or use saliva samples. Although there’s no cure for HIV, it is treatable if caught in the early stages and does not prevent people from living a normal lifestyle. If left untreated, the latter stages of HIV, AIDS, stops your body from being able to fight life-threatening infections.