What is sexual health?
Sexual health describes your physical health in relation to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), contraception, your preferred sexual habits and much more. Practicing safe sex is an important part of protecting you and your partner's sexual health. This page has information about safe sex, contraception, how to access sexual health services and much more.
You can pick up free condoms and dental dams from the Imperial College Union Welcome Desk on the ground floor of Beit Quad.
Think you might be pregnant?
If you’ve missed your period and think that you might be pregnant, take a test as soon as possible and make an appointment with your doctor or a sexual health clinic for confidential advice.
Thinking about contraception
Contraception describes the different methods you can use to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STIs. There are lots of different types to choose from, depending on your preferences, and contraception is often available free on the NHS.
Condoms are a common form of contraception used to protect against both pregnancy and STIs. Not all forms of contraception can protect you from STIs, so if you have unprotected sex (sex without using a physical barrier like a condom or diaphragm), you are still at risk of contracting an STI.
There are a number of types of long-lasting contraception. Many types of contraception are reversable, so if you find one method doesn’t suit you – don’t worry, you can change it.
Some common types of contraception that you might have heard of include:
- the pill (combined and progestogen-only)
- the implant
- the injection
- the coil (sometimes known as an IUD and IUS)
- the patch
If you’d like to learn more about your options for contraception and what could work best for you, visit your local sexual health clinic or talk to your doctor for advice.
If you’ve had unprotected sex and you’re not using a long-term form of contraception, you can get an emergency contraceptive pill for free from your local sexual health clinic, doctor’s surgery, NHS walk-in centre or pharmacy.
You can also buy the emergency contraceptive pill from most pharmacies. The cost varies but can be around £25 to £35.
Emergency contraception can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex but is more effective the sooner it is taken. Read more about emergency contraception on the NHS website.
Sexually transmitted infections
What are STIs?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital contact. While some STIs have clear symptoms, others can go undetected for a long time, so it’s worthwhile getting tested regularly if you are sexually active.
Common STIs can include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and genital warts.
All STIs have different symptoms, however some of the common signs to look out for are:
- unusual discharge
- pain when peeing
- lumps or skin growths around the genitals or bottom
- rashes, itches or blisters around the genitals or bottom
- unusual vaginal bleeding
It’s important to remember that some STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea do not have obvious symptoms. If you’re concerned that you might have an STI, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible.
What do I do if I think I have an STI?
A sexual health clinic or your doctor can diagnose and treat an STI. You can often turn up without an appointment, but it’s best to check beforehand with your local clinic. When you visit a clinic, any information about your results and treatment is kept confidential and won’t be shared with your regular doctor unless you give your permission.
If you’re concerned that you might have an STI, it’s important to:
- get tested as soon as possible
- use physical protection like a condom or dental dam during sex
- tell your sexual partner if you can
Sexual Health London
Sexual Health London (SHL) is London's sexual health e-service that provides free and easy access to sexual health testing. Available to anyone over the age of 16 in most London boroughs, the service provides testing for a range of sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, syphilis and hapatitis B and C.
Remember that STIs can be passed from woman to woman and from man to man. The NHS website explains what to expect when you visit a sexual health clinic, and has sexual health advice for lesbian and bisexual women and gay and bisexual men.
What support is there for me?
There are lots of services across London that offer both appointment and walk-in services for sexual health queries, from a consultation with a healthcare professional, to STI or pregnancy testing and access to contraception. These services are all free, friendly and entirely confidential, we’ve listed some of the main services in London you might want to use.