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    I had unprotected sex – what should I do? What STI symptoms should I look out for?

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      Virus, condoms and pills

      Let’s face it, unprotected sex can happen, even with the best intentions. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do after unprotected sex, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster – there are many ways you can protect yourself against unwanted pregnancy and the development of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

      The important thing is not to stick your head in the sand and pretend nothing’s happened – the sooner you take action, the more easily you can avoid or treat any unwanted complications of unprotected sex…

      Our Online Doctor service can help you discreetly and remotely with the morning after pill (emergency contraceptive pill) and STI checks

      Considering an STI test?

      View our STI test kit options


      Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) symptoms

      If you experience symptoms after unprotected sex, you should get tested straight away.

      • Common STI symptoms for women
      • Unexplained bleeding
      • Pain during or after sex
      • Pain when you pee
      • Lower tummy pain
      • Unusual discharge
      • Itching around the genital area or anus
      • Sores or rashes around the genital area or anus
      • Common STI symptoms for men
      • Bleeding
      • Discharge from the penis
      • Pain during ejaculation
      • Tenderness in the testicles
      • Rectal discharge (discharge from the rectal passage)
      • Rashes or sores around the genitals or anus

      If you are experiencing these sorts of symptoms you should get yourself checked for STIs, or talk to your GP. They may not be the result of a sexually transmitted infection, but could indicate other health issues.

      Even if you are experiencing no symptoms at all, you should still get checked if there is any chance that you have contracted an STI. It is estimated that 50% of men and at least 70% of women with chlamydia, for instance, do not experience any symptoms.

      It’s extremely important to get tested for STIs because they can develop serious complications. Women with chlamydia or gonorrhoea that is left untreated can develop pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition that can lead to chronic pain, increased risk of miscarriage and infertility.

      How long do STI symptoms take to show? 

      How long it takes for symptoms to show depends on the STI. Symptoms can appear quickly, but often STIs are symptomless until much later.

      • Chlamydia – can appear in one-three weeks but can start much later 
      • Genital herpes – can appear in four-seven days, but can be months or years 
      • Genital warts – can appear within three weeks, but can be months or years 
      • Gonorrhoea – can appear within two weeks but can start much later 
      • HIV – first symptoms can take two to six weeks, then you may not get any further symptoms for years 
      • Pubic lice – can appear in a few weeks 
      • Scabies – can take six weeks if you’ve not had them before, four days if you have 
      • Syphilis – usually appear within two to three weeks, but can be much earlier or later 
      • Trichomoniasis – can appear within four weeks, but can be much later 

      Emergency contraception

      You might think that, because you used the “withdrawal method”, or had sex in a certain position or at a certain time of month, there’s no chance of pregnancy. Sadly, this is not the case! Unprotected sex is nearly always associated with the risk of pregnancy. Once inside the body, sperm can stay alive and fertilise an egg for up to 7 days – and remember, it only takes one to get pregnant.

      If you're a woman who has had unprotected sex and don't want to get pregnant, emergency contraception should always be a consideration. There are two types of emergency contraception: the emergency contraceptive pill, or morning after pill, and the emergency coil, or IUD. The morning after pill, can be taken within 3-5 days (depending on which type you use).

      The emergency coil must be fitted by a trained medical professional, but it can effectively prevent pregnancy for up to 5 days after unprotected sex or within 5 days of ovulation. The emergency coil is the most effective method of emergency contraception, so it's always worth speaking to a sexual health service or your GP. You might think it's too late to have the coil fitted but it might not be. 

      An emergency coil can be fitted for free at sexual health clinics, or at certain GP surgeries. The morning after pill is also available for free from these places, it can be bought from our online clinic and at most pharmacies.

      How can I protect myself for next time?

      It’s simple: use contraception!

      Condoms

      If you do not want to have a baby, and/or if you aren’t sure that your sexual partner is STI-free, you should always use condoms (ideally male external condoms, as female internal condoms can be difficult to use) for penetrative sex, and where possible, dental dams and condoms for oral sex.

      Bear in mind: 

      • Condoms that are too big or too small can slip off during sex – if you need smaller or larger condoms than are commonly available, make sure you stock up before sex!
      • Condoms can be pierced by piercings or fingernails
      • Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms
      • Out-of-date condoms can break easily – so make sure to check the expiry date
      • Ensure your condoms are manufactured to UK and European safety standards– they should have a UK kite mark/CE stamped on each condom foil.

      Female contraception

      If you are a woman or man in a heterosexual monogamous relationship, and are not concerned that your partner may have an STI, but you do not want to have a baby, you should either use condoms or contraception such as the contraceptive pill, the coil, a diaphragm (with spermicide) or the implant or injection.

      Men: remember that an unwanted pregnancy will be your responsibility too – if you are going to have sex without a condom, check that your partner is using contraception.

      Sex toys

      STIs can easily be spread through the use of sex toys - use them with a new condom between each person. Avoid sharing toys and always wash them after use to reduce the risks.

      VideoGP by LloydsPharmacy

      References

      https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chlamydia/symptoms/
      https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/sexual-health/how-soon-do-sti-symptoms-appear/

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