How to prevent STIs

STIs are on the rise. Keep you and your partner safe. Use a condom.

Condoms are the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Free condoms

The best way to reduce your risk of STIs is to use a condom or female (internal) condom when having sex. If you’re having anal sex it’s important to also use water-based or silicon-based lubricant.

Anyone can get condoms for free in Scotland, even if you’re under 16.

Free condoms and lubricant are available from sexual health clinics, as well as some service providers, GP practices and pharmacies.

You can find more information from your local NHS board about where to get free condoms.

It can feel embarrassing to ask someone else for condoms. Please try to remember the person providing free condoms is doing so because they want the best for you. They want to help you look after your health and keep you safe.

You have a right to good health and you have a right to the condoms that are being provided. They are provided to keep sex both safe and fun.

Condom services are confidential so the person won’t tell anyone else about it.

While it might feel a bit embarrassing to ask for the condoms, it’ll feel less awkward than finding out you have an STI.

If you don’t want to ask, you could just write ‘Free condoms please’ on your phone or a bit of paper and hand it over.

In some areas, you can get condoms posted to you for free. They’re discreetly packaged in a plain envelope.

STIs are on the rise

STIs are on the rise across Scotland.

The number of infections has more than doubled since 2017. That increase means that 1 in every 200 people aged under 25 has gonorrhoea.

Most STIs are easily treated, but they can cause complications and lead to health problems if left untreated.

The best way to reduce your risk of STIs is to use a condom when having vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek advice from healthcare professionals regarding your sexual health. 

STI symptoms

It can be difficult to know if you have an STI without a test, as some people don’t experience symptoms.

Some common symptoms can include:

  • an unusual discharge from your vagina, penis or anus
  • an itching or stinging feeling in the genital area
  • a burning sensation when peeing
  • bleeding between periods and after sex

Read more about common genital symptoms, including those which may be the sign of an STI

Take an STI test if:

  • you have symptoms of an STI
  • you’re told that a sexual partner has an STI
  • you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner

You can book an STI test online or by contacting your local sexual health service. Services available may vary across Scotland. You can also get tested at your GP practice.

Testing is simple and painless. If you need it, treatment is free and effective.

Telling your sexual partner

If you test positive and you feel able to tell your partner about it, it’s a good idea to encourage them to get tested as well. You should avoid having sex until both you and your partner have been treated.

If you don’t want to tell your partner, you can pass on their contact details to your sexual health service and they can contact them anonymously without naming you at all.

Don’t worry if you’re unable to, or would rather not, share any details about your partner. It won’t affect you being able to get treatment.

If your partner or you tests positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one of you has been having sex with someone else. Some STIs have no symptoms and you or your partner may have had the infection for some time without knowing it.

How to talk to your partner