You should never feel worried about sex. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro, sex should be an enjoyable, exciting and fun part of your life and let’s face it, many people would agree, it feels pretty good ?.
That said, there are risks, which vary depending on the sexual activity you participate in. You may also feel pressured to take part in sex or conduct sexual acts, which can have a negative impact on your relationship with sex, especially if you’re new or unfamiliar with it all.
Everyone should be able to enjoy sex in their own way and to be able to explore their sexuality safely. To do that, it’s important that you’re aware of the risks, the things in place to help protect you from those risks and what to do if you think you need help with your sexual health.
LGBTQ+ people are exposed to the same sexually transmitted infections or STIs as any sexually active person regardless of sexuality, gender or race, however, some members of the community are perceived as having a higher risk than others.
For example, if you’re a man who has sex with men or you’re engaging in certain sexual activity that is deemed to be higher risk, you should take extra care to keep things safe. Penetrative anal sex, some fetishes or kinks or having sex with multiple partners are all considered to increase your risk of having adverse sexual health effects.
STIs range from treatable short-term infections to chronic, lifelong conditions that require complex medical support. Many people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) do not get symptoms, so it’s worth getting tested even if you feel fine.
The best way to protect yourself and your sexual partners from STIs and other complications is to practice safe, consensual sex. You can pick up free condoms and lube from your local sexual health service. Always use a condom, especially when having sex with someone new or if you have sex with multiple people. Don’t share sex toys or lube and make sure you properly clean them with anti-bacterial soaps and warm water.
You can also get vaccinations for certain STIs including certain types of Hepatitis and there’s now medication (PrEP) which when taken as instructed by a doctor can significantly reduce your risk of contracting HIV. You can learn more about PrEP and HIV here.
If you think you have put yourself at risk, it’s really important that you visit a clinic or call 101 straight away, as there are things like PEP that can try and prevent an HIV infection from taking hold or emergency contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy. These need to be started immediately to be effective, so don’t delay if you think you’ve been at risk.
I put off getting tested for ages because I was scared that I'd bump into someone I knew and was embarrassed about talking to someone about something so private. I needn't have been worried. Knowing your sexual health status brings so much more peace of mind, the staff are sensitive and discreet and it's all over and done within about 10 minutes.
J, 24 - Sunderland
The easiest way to get tested is to attend your local sexual health service. In Newcastle, the New Croft Centre and in Sunderland at Sunderland Royal Hospital, you can access a range of sexual health services, confidential and easy testing and advice on sexual health.
The clinics offer convenient ‘drop-in’ sessions, so you can attend at a time that’s right for you as well as allowing you to book appointments. If it’s your first time, you’ll probably need to fill out a form or answer some simple questions about your general health with a health worker before waiting in a waiting room to be seen by a nurse, doctor or healthcare professional.
They’ll ask you some questions about your lifestyle, sexual activities and partners and your general health, as well as any symptoms you may have to help decide the best tests or treatment to provide. They’ve seen and heard it all, so don’t feel embarrassed answering their questions and try to be as honest as possible as it could mean you don’t get the right services if you don’t give them the full picture.
The tests themselves are very quick and you’ll usually be able to take your own samples in privacy. The samples you may be asked to provide include a urine sample, quick, painless swabs of your genitals, bum and throat or a small blood sample. The blood sample may be given via a finger prick or through a vein in your arm. Your samples will then be securely sent to a lab for testing and you’ll usually receive your results in a few days via text. If there’s something the clinic would like to speak to you about regarding your results, the text will ask you to arrange a callback.
You may not feel confident to attend a clinic or simply may not be able to get there. Depending on where you live in the region, you can access free home testing kits, which allow you to test for most things you’d test for at a clinic, in the comfort of your own home.
If you live in County Durham, you can order a free home testing kit from SH24. If you live in Tyne and Wear or Teeside, the kits sadly aren’t free, but the people behind SH24 run a service called Fettle which allows you to purchase the same testing kits from £21.
People across the region can order a free HIV home testing kit from Test.hiv. You take a very small blood sample using a painless finger prick and then post your sample off for testing. You can track its progress through the lab online and get your results stright to your phone.
These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have an STI, but it’s worth visiting your local GUM clinic so you can find out what’s causing the symptoms and get treatment.