What is an STI?

A Sexually Transmitted Infection is passed to another person through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, genital contact or through sharing sex toys.  There are several types of STIs and the symptoms vary however, general signs to look out for are:

  • Unusual discharge from vagina, penis or anus
  • Blisters, sores, lumps or skin growths around the genital area or anus
  • Pain when peeing
  • Itchy genitals
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Pain when having sex
  • Rash

Often there can be no symptoms of an STI so it is important to go for regular check ups

Additional things to consider

  • You have had unprotected sex with a new partner
  • A sexual partner has symptoms
  • You are planning a pregnancy and might be at risk of infection
  • You or your partner have had sex with other people without using a condom

If you have symptoms that you think are due to an STI, or you have no symptoms but are concerned you may have caught an STI, then you should see a health professional. You can go to your own GP or directly to a GUM clinic. GUM clinics are special clinics that help people who have, or may have, an STI or certain other problems with their genitals or urinary system. The service is confidential; tests are optional and will only be carried out with your consent.

How am I tested for STIs?

  • Examination of genitals, mouth, anus and skin to look for obvious signs
  • Urine sample
  • Bloods taken
  • Swabs from throat or rectum (this is less common)


Advice from a sexual health adviser

Most GUM clinics will have a sexual health adviser. You are likely to be seen by the adviser in addition to being seen by a doctor or nurse. A sexual health adviser is specially trained and can:

  • Tell you more about STIs and how to avoid catching them in future.
  • Give you tips on how to cope with any current symptoms.
  • Offer you free condoms which can help to prevent STIs.
  • Give advice about what to tell your sexual partner or previous partners.
  • Help you with contacting previous sexual partners who should be tested or treated. For example, you may be given a card with a number on it, plus a printed message advising the person who is given the card to visit the clinic and to bring the card along. This helps to match them with your notes

There are GUM clinics in the five health and social care trusts (HSCT) in Northern Ireland.  You can find contact details of your nearest clinic here: www.sexualhealthni.info/gum-clinics-northern-ireland


Most STIs can be treated, depending on which infection is found, it can be a course of antibiotics, cream or topical treatment. Certain STIs like genital herpes, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV are more complex and require more in-depth research. The important thing is being in control of your sexual health, going for regular check-ups, and encouraging open communication between yourself and your partner(s).

Have you had an STI? What was your experience like? Ask questions, share stories, or offer advice in the comments. Join or start the conversation below.