Read about the different types of sexual health conditions including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS. You can also get information on contraception and abortion.
When someone chooses to end a pregnancy, the procedure is called an abortion. It is sometimes known as a termination. There are two ways an unwanted pregnancy is ended; taking medicines or having a surgical procedure. Abortions can only be carried out under the care of an NHS hospital or a licensed clinic, and are usually available free of charge on the NHS.
You can self-refer by contacting an abortion provider directly – the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), MSI Reproductive Choices UK, the National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS) or your local NHS sexual health website can tell you about eligibility and services in your area
The procedure should happen within 14 days of first contacting the abortion provider of your choice, however, wait times can vary.
- For more information on when an abortion can be carried out, what happens during an abortion, and risks visit the NHS UK.
- You can get information for young people and abortion on the Brook website.
Most cervical screening is done in a GP surgery, please contact your GP practice to make an appointment.
Find out how to book a cervical screening on the NHS website.
Use the NHS Find a GP tool to search for a GP.
Condoms are a thin latex sheath worn over the penis or inside the vagina. They are designed to stop semen coming in contact with your sexual partner. There are condoms for men, worn over the penis, and for women, worn inside the vagina. Both types of condoms if used correctly can prevent pregnancies and protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
If you are aged 16 to 24 years old, you can register for the Come Correct (CCard) scheme and pick up free condoms from a range of venues.
You can get free condoms from sexual and reproductive health services, some GP surgeries and community pharmacies.
Contraception aims to prevent a pregnancy. Some methods of contraception can also be used to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
No method of contraception is 100% effective; you can read more about how effective contraception is on the contraception page of the NHS website. You can get information to help make an informed decision on the Contraception Choices website. Young people can visit the Brook website for information and advice.
There are fifteen methods of contraception:
- Cervical caps are cups made of silicone put at the top of the vagina, to cover the cervix (neck of the womb).
- The combined pill, (known as "the pill") is taken every day usually with a week off once a month for a period. You can order your contraceptive pill online.
- Condoms worn inside the vagina prevent pregnancy and STIs.
- Condoms worn on the penis prevent pregnancy and STIs.
- The contraceptive implant is a soft piece of plastic that's put in under the skin of the arm.
- The contraceptive injection is given every three month containing the hormone progestogen.
- The contraceptive patch consists of a square sticker like thin plaster that is changed once a week.
- Diaphragms are cups made of silicone put at the top of the vagina, to cover the cervix (neck of the womb).
- The Intrauterine device (IUD) is put into the womb by a doctor or nurse, and lasts up to 5 to 10 years.
- The Intrauterine system (IUS) releases a small amount of progestogen hormone. It's put into the womb by a doctor or nurse and lasts up to 5 years.
- Natural family planning is a method of contraception where different fertility signals are monitored and recorded during a menstrual cycle to work out the likelyhood of getting pregnant.
- The progestogen-only pill (the mini-pill) is taken every single day without any breaks.
- The vaginal ring is a soft plastic ring put in the vagina and changed every three weeks, with a week off.
There are 2 permanent methods of contraception:
- Female sterilisation is an operation to permanently prevent pregnancy.
- A vasectomy (male sterilisation) is a surgical procedure to cut or seal the tubes that carry a man's sperm to permanently prevent pregnancy.
Contraception is free on the NHS for all ages and you can get it from a range of places including sexual and reproductive health services, your GP, community pharmacies, specialist young people’s services.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
STIs are generally acquired by sexual contact. The bacteria, viruses or parasites that cause sexually transmitted infections may pass from person to person in blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids.
Do not have sex, including oral sex, without using a condom until you've had a check-up. Some STIs don’t have symptoms. You can have an STI without knowing it and infect your partner during sex.
You can read more about the symptoms of an STI on the STI page of the NHS website.
Common STIs are:
- Chlamydia: Read more about Chlamydia on the NHS website.
- Gonorrhoea: Read more about Gonorrhoea on the NHS website.
- Trichomoniasis: Read more about Trichomoniasis on the NHS website.
- Genital warts: Read more about Genital warts on the NHS website.
- Genital herpes: Read more about Genital herpes on the NHS website.
- Pubic lice: Read more about Pubic lice on the NHS website.
- Scabies: Read more about Scabies on the NHS website.
- Syphilis: Read more about Syphilis on the NHS website.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Read more about HPV on the NHS website.
If you think you've got an STI or have had sex with someone who has an STI, go for a check-up at a sexual health service as soon as you can.
HIV and AIDS
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that damages the body’s immune system. This weakens your ability to figh everyday infections and disease. HIV is most commonly passed on from one person to another is through having unprotected vaginal or anal sex.
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus. While AIDS cannot be transmitted from one person to another, the HIV virus can.
There's currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life.
With an early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with HIV will not develop any AIDS-related illnesses and will live a near-normal lifespan.
Read more about HIV and AIDS, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, living with HIV and preventing HIV on the HIV and AIDS page of the NHS website.
Pre-exposure prophalaxis (PrEP)
PrEP is a medicine taken to reduce your chance of getting HIV. It’s taken as a tablet. You can get the medicine from sexual health clinics.
Chemsex means using drugs as part of your sex life. It’s most common among men who have sex with men, but it is also becoming more common among people having heterosexual sex and people identifying as LGBT+.
People engage in chemsex for different reasons; for some it makes them less inhibited and increases pleasure, while others take part in chemsex to address issues in their sex life and self-esteem.
There are typically three specific drugs involved:
- Methamphetamine: This is a stimulant also known as crystal meth, crystal, meth, tina and crank.
- Mephedrone: This is a stimulant also known as meph, drone or meow meow.
- Gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB) and Gammabutyrolactone (GBL): There are sedatives and they're also known as G, gina, geebs and liquid ecstasy.
The mpox infection is rare. The risk of catching it is low. Anyone can get the mpox however, most cases in the UK have been in men who are gay, bisexual or have sex with other men, so it's particularly important to be aware of the symptoms if you're in these groups.
Symptoms of mpox include a high temperature, joint pains, swollen glands and rashes that start on the face, which spreads to other parts of the body.
Call your local sexual health clinic if you have symptoms of mpox and tell the person you speak to what you are experiencing.
Do you need your mpox vaccine?
It’s important to protect yourself and those around you by making sure you have both doses of the mpox vaccine and test regularly for STIs. This is recommended even if the chance of getting mpox is now lower since the global outbreak in May 2022.
UKHSA recommends the mpox vaccine for men who have sex with men who have multiple or casual partners or who have been previously diagnosed with an STI. For maximum protection, a second booster vaccine is recommended two to three months after your first dose.