Choose to protect yourself – always use a condom
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in Northern Ireland and the Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding everyone of the importance of using condoms and how to get tested for an STI.
Dr Rachel Coyle, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, explains: “Having sex without a condom is a bit like sleeping with everyone your partner has ever slept with and puts you at risk of getting an STI."
“The Choose to protect yourself campaign promotes good sexual health by encouraging the use of condoms and regular testing for STIs. We hope this will contribute to reducing STIs over time in Northern Ireland.”
Safer sex and testing
Condoms reduce the risk of getting an STI and are the only method of contraception that help protect against them. If you think you may be at risk of having contracted an STI the only way to know is to get tested.
Anyone who has sex can get and pass on an STI – you don’t need to have lots of sexual partners. Some STIs have no symptoms so it is important to get tested even if you feel healthy.
Free and discreet home STI testing is available online or at your nearest GUM clinic. Information on how to arrange a test is available at www.sexualhealthni.info
Home testing - What does home testing involve? Home testing is available for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis. After ordering online, your testing kit will be sent to you with instructions on how to complete the tests. This usually involves a swab test for chlamydia or gonorrhoea and a finger prick blood test for HIV and syphilis
STI test kits are delivered in discreet packaging and you will get a text update when your order is dispatched.
Getting your results
Your test kit will include a Freepost return pack, pop your samples in and send them back. You’ll be updated by text message when the return samples reach the lab. Most people get their results by text message within 7 days.
What if my results show I have an STI?
If you have an infection you will get advice on how to access treatment. You will also be given information on how to inform any sexual partners who may also need to have an STI test.
If your test is positive for chlamydia you will often be able to access postal treatment via the testing service, i.e. you can choose to have the treatment posted to your door. Most people opt for this and find the service very convenient.
What else can I do to protect myself?
We know people are more likely to have sex without a condom if they have been drinking alcohol or are under the influence of drugs. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, meaning we may take more risks, including having sex when we may not have done or not thinking about using a condom. The more you drink, the higher the risk of having unsafe sex.
Gay and bisexual men having unprotected sex with casual or new partners should be screened for HIV and other STIs at least annually, and every three months if changing partners regularly. They should also consider the use of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which can reduce an individual’s risk of getting HIV from sex. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV, however it does not protect against other STIs so using condoms remains really important.
For more information on looking after your sexual health visit www.sexualhealthni.info