If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about sexual health but feel nervous at the idea, read on…
Good sexual health is important for our overall health and wellbeing. It includes the right to healthy relationships, access to inclusive and safe health services, reliable information, and freedom from coercion, violence, stigma and discrimination. Gaining the confidence to talk openly with sexual partners, health professionals and learning more about safer sex practices helps you take charge of not only your own but the sexual health of others.
Think you know all there is to know about sexual health?
STI stands for ‘sexually transmitted infection’, it’s an infection that can be passed from one person to another through sex – vaginal, anal, oral or skin-to-skin. There are many different types of STIs, and many people will have one at some point in their life. STIs can either be treated or managed. In Australia, some common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis – these are all bacteria!
STIs often don’t show symptoms, so it’s possible to have one and not realise. This is why regular testing is important. When STIs do show symptoms, it might be pain when urinating or having sex, unusual discharge, rashes, or itching in the genital area.
Along with STIs, there are also Blood Borne Viruses (or BBVs) that can be passed on during sex. These can include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Hepatitis B. HIV and Hep B can be passed on through unprotected sex, as well as unsterile injecting equipment (this includes tattoo and piercing equipment).
What happens if an STI is untreated?
If someone has an STI and it is untreated, it may cause health problems. Some STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea may cause harm to the male and female reproductive systems, including swollen testes and pelvic inflammatory disease. These could lead to infertility (being unable to have children).
If left untreated, syphilis can lead to serious health problems with the heart, brain, spine, eyes and more. It can also be passed onto a baby during pregnancy, and has sadly led to stillbirths and miscarriages here in WA. These are preventable with testing and treatment.
If someone knows that they have an STI they can get treatment or medicine to manage it. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to take care of your sexual health, it keeps you and your partner/s safe.
What is an STI test? What happens during one?
STI testing is quick and painless. You will be asked some questions about the type of sex you have had and if you have any symptoms. This will help to determine what types of STIs you may need to test for. It can be as simple as a urine sample. Sometimes the nurse may recommend a swab or a blood test. Some STIs and BBVs like syphilis and HIV are only detected in blood tests. You can also ask when you should return for your next STI test.
Test results normally take about one week.
Do I need a Medicare card?
Short answer: no.
Having a Medicare card means you can receive a rebate on the cost of testing, depending on the clinic you visit. Some places will offer bulk billing, and others may have a fee to pay. At SHQ the Medicare rebate covers most of the cost of the appointment, except for a small gap fee.
If you don’t have a Medicare card or don’t want to use it this is okay, it will just mean that the full price would be charged. Don’t be afraid to ask about it when making a booking.
What happens if a test comes back positive?
Many STIs are cured with antibiotics, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis. The antibiotics can remove the infection. Others such as herpes and HIV can be well managed with medicines.
If you do get a positive result for an STI, it’s important to notify past or current sexual partners so they can be tested too. This is contact tracing – a nurse can help you with contacting people, or there are anonymous services such as Let Them Know, or The Drama Downunder.
Where can I go to get an STI test?
There are many places you can go for an STI test! You get to decide where you want to go:
- An STI test can be done by your GP! If you have a doctor that you feel comfortable with, you can ask them for an STI test. You can also make an appointment with any other doctor, you don’t have to go to your usual doctor if you would prefer not to.
- Or, you can always make an appointment with us here at SHQ! We have a clinic in Northbridge, and we also offer telehealth appointments.
- Contact our sexual health helpline if you need help finding a clinic near you that provides sexual health services such as STI testing. We are available at 08 6375 7788, Monday to Friday 9:30 – 3:30. Or, you can email the helpline, details are at the bottom of this page.
- If you are on-site and need help with STI testing and treatment, you are allowed to ask a nurse for help.
When should I get an STI test?
- If you are having sex, then regular tests are a good idea.
- It is also wise to test if you are going on holiday overseas and may have sex there – in some parts of the world STIs and BBVs are more common
- At the beginning of a new sexual relationship / in between sexual partners
- If you’ve never had one and you’re sexually active
- If your partner/s have an STI
- If you think you might have an STI
- If you have sex without a condom, or if it breaks or falls off during sex
If you feel a little weird about the idea of going to a sexual health clinic – that’s okay! People even get nervous about going to the dentist, and it’s normal to feel nervous. The thing is, we know that it’s still important to seek help about sexual health matters so we, and our partners, can continue to be happy and healthy. Taking care of your health and feeling in control is a good feeling – it’s empowering!
Is testing the only way to prevent STIs?
- Using a condom during sex can protect you from most STIs. Condoms are available in different materials, sizes, and some are even flavoured! If a condom feels uncomfortable it may mean you need to try other sizes or brands to see which works best. Some STIs are also passed on through oral sex, and condoms can help here too. Latex dams are also a great option for safer oral sex – they are a thin sheet of latex.
- Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) can prevent HIV. It’s a medication taken once a day by someone who doesn’t have HIV to prevent them from getting the virus. You can learn more about PrEP here.
- Talking to our sexual partner/s about safer sex is a great way of making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to condoms, testing, or contraception. Talking to each other about what we can do to keep each other safe can make sex feel more comfortable, and more enjoyable.
I still have questions!
Reach out to us! We have our sexual health helpline which provides confidential information and referrals from clinicians around contraception, sexually transmissible infections and unintended pregnancy.
Our phone line opening hours are below:
Monday 9:30am — 3:30pm
Tuesday 9:30am — 3:30pm
Wednesday 9:30am — 3:30pm
Thursday 9:30am — 3:30pm
Friday 9:30am — 3:30pm
Saturday & Sunday Closed
We believe that everyone deserves equal access to services and education that improves sexual health and wellbeing. We know that people who are fly-in-fly-out workers can experience reduced access to these services, so we want to fill that gap. Together we can improve the sexual health of our communities, so people can lead happier and healthier lives.