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STIs, STDs & Young People
What are STIs?
STI stands for Sexually Transmitted Infection. They are sometimes called Sexually Transmitted Diseases - STDs - which is when the infection leads to an established disease.
A sexually transmitted infection can be caught by having sexual contact with someone who is infected, such as having vaginal, oral or anal sex. However, some STIs (e.g. Herpes and HPV) can be caught by touching the infected areas of someone's body and then touching your own genitals (private parts).
There are quite a lot of different STIs among young people. Knowing as much as possible about them is one of the best ways to keep yourself sexually healthy. We have more information about the different STIs as well as specific information on HIV and AIDS.
Aren't STIs only a problem for older people who sleep around?
No. In fact, chlamydia and gonorrhea are examples of STIs that are more common among young people than among older men and women. And you don't have to have sex with a lot of people to get an STI, although this can increase the likelihood.
How would I know if I had an STI?
You wouldn’t necessarily. Sometimes STIs have no symptoms at all. Visible STI symptoms can be found either on the genitals or in and around the mouth. Our STI pages will give you more information about symptoms. But the only way to know is to get a sexual health check up.
I think I've got an STI! What should I do?
If you think you have an STI you should have a test and get treatment. Many STIs are easy to cure and all are treatable. However, untreated STIs can be dangerous - if you don't get help, you may not be able to have children later in life, or it can increase your risk of cancer. You may also pass it on to your partner.
Who can I talk to?
It may help you to talk to an adult about STI information for young people - perhaps a parent, school nurse or teacher may be able to advise you where you can have an STI test. Or you can ask your doctor about STI testing. It's much better to talk to someone than to worry on your own.
I'm too shy to go to a clinic for an STI test!
Don't worry. The doctors and nurses who work there are professionals and they do STI testing all the time.
Will they tell my parents?
Most (but not all) clinics have a confidentiality policy, and will not tell anyone, although some places will want you to bring a parent to give consent. You can phone the clinic before you go and find out.
What will they do?
If you think that you may already have passed on the infection to someone else, it is important that you tell them so that they can have a test, too.
They may take a urine sample, a blood sample or a swab from the vagina or penis. Not all STI testing requires you to have a physical examination, and you might not even have to undress. Ask what they are testing for - it may be a good idea to be tested for everything, if you can. Some places can give you the results on the same day, in other places you may have to wait for a week or more. While you wait, you shouldn't have sexual contact with anyone.
If you find that you do have an STI, it's important that you don't pass on the infection to anyone else. Ask the clinician for advice about when it’s safe to have sexual contact again.
If you think that you may already have passed on the infection to someone else, it is important that you tell them so that they can have a test, too. If the clinic gives you antibiotics or medication, make sure that you follow the instructions and complete the course of treatment - otherwise the STI may come back.
So how can I protect myself?
Using condoms during vaginal, oral and anal sex will help to protect you, (see our condoms page). You could also use a female condom (although you shouldn't use both male and female condoms together). However, some STIs (such as oral herpes) can be transmitted in other ways, such as kissing. You shouldn't have sexual contact with anyone who has visible sores or genital rashes.
You can only catch an STI by having sexual contact with someone else who already has an STI, but remember that this won’t usually be obvious. This means that someone who does not have an STI can't infect you, and you can't infect yourself by masturbation.