Important information about safer sex

Sex is not compulsory in any relationship, but you owe it to yourself to find out as much as you can about sex and how to keep yourself safe before making any decisions.

Some important things to remember:

  • The legal age for having sex is 16.
  • It is your body and you decide when it is right for you to have sex. You should not feel pressured into anything.
  • Having unprotected sex will mean you could be at risk of becoming pregnant or catching a Sexual Transmitted Infection (STI)
  • Methods of contraception such as the pill will protect you from pregnancy but not STI's.
  • If you are in a same sex relationship it is also important that you practice safe sex to prevent the risk of catching an STI.

STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are diseases passed on through bodily fluids like saliva, blood and sexual fluids like sperm. STIs are caught by having sex (including oral sex) with someone who's infected. Using a condom every time you have sex offers the best protection from STIs.  

STIs are often silent. This means that you or your partner may have one and know nothing about it, this doesn't mean you can't pass it on, and it doesn't mean it's not doing you harm inside. The only way to be sure is to have a sexual health screen. This means seeing your GP or local sexual health clinic and having tests done to rule out infections. Sometimes (but not always) this includes swabs being taken from our genitals, blood tests and/or urine tests.  Everyone who is having sex should have an STI screen from time to time. 

The symptoms of the most common STIs are:

  • Chlamydia and gonorrhoea: Unusual discharge from the genitals (penis or vagina), pain urinating (weeing), pain in the lower abdomen. However, about 80% of women who have Chlamydia get no symptoms at all.
  • Genital warts: Flat or cauliflower-like bumps around the genitals.
  • Genital herpes: Painful blisters or ulcers on the mouth or genitals. Flu-like symptoms like headache or swollen glands.
  • Syphilis: Ulcers (which are often painless) on the genitals. Rashes, flu-like symptoms.
  • Pubic lice: Itching around the genitals, black powder found in underwear, white specks in pubic hair.

If you think you may have an STI see your doctor or sexual health clinic. Most STIs can be cured with a simple course of antibiotic pills or cream. But if left untreated they can cause more serious health problems like not being able to have babies. Remember, the professionals you meet spend all day every day screening people for STIs, no one will judge or lecture you.

You can find your local Sexual Health support services by using this link:

All contraception is free in the UK, and there are 15 types to choose from. Contraceptive methods protect against pregnancy, so if you use contraception correctly you can have sex without worrying about getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant, however, only condoms are the only method that can prevent STIs and getting pregnant.

Contraception services are free and confidential, including for people under 16 years old. This means that the doctor or nurse won't tell your parents, or anyone else, as long as they believe that you're mature enough to understand the information and decisions involved. There are strict guidelines for healthcare professionals who work with people under 16. If they believe that there's a risk to your safety and welfare, they may decide to tell your parents

The methods of contraception

  • caps
  • combined pill
  • condoms (female)
  • condoms (male)
  • contraceptive implant
  • contraceptive injection
  • contraceptive patch
  • diaphragms
  • intrauterine device (IUD)
  • intrauterine system (IUS)
  • natural family planning
  • progestogen-only pill
  • vaginal ring

There are two permanent methods of contraception:

  • female sterilisation
  • male sterilisation (vasectomy)

Useful contacts


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