The first thing most of us think of when hearing ‘sexual health’ is probably protecting against sexually transmitted infections and diseases. This is an important factor in sexual health, but it’s important to remember sexual health also includes mutual consent, being respectful to those involved, and having a good time.
Sex is different for different people, and we engage in sexual relationships in a variety of different ways that are all okay if everyone involved gives consent. Being open with a partner or partners can help you to communicate better and have relationships where everyone feels comfortable and enjoys themselves. It is the responsibility of all involved to make sure others are comfortable, and feel they can say something if they are not.
Sexually Transmitted Infections and Diseases
Sexually transmitted infections and diseases can be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids such as blood or seamen, and through close body contact with others. They can be bacterial, parasitic, viral or fungal. For example:
|· Scabies||· Herpes
· Human Papillomavirus (Genital Warts)
You can get STIs through any kind of intimate contact with someone, including penetrative vaginal and anal sex, oral sex (vagina, penis, anus), or close contact with genitals. STIs can lead to serious health problems if untreated, such as infertility or in some cases death. If you want to learn more about STIs there are leaflets in the LGBT+a office, online, or you can go to a sexual health services such as a drop in GUM clinic (more info. later).
STIs can have a wide range of symptoms, or a person may not show any. If you have had unprotected sex or think you might have put yourself at risk for contracting an STI you should seek medical advice and treatment. It is easy for many infections or diseases to be missed if you don’t show symptoms, so regular checks if you are sexually active are advised. Many STIs can be treated and cured so that you do not have them at all anymore, but some cannot, such as HPV or HIV. It’s important to remember getting an STI shouldn’t be the end of your sex life. They are very common, and even if you cannot be ‘cured’ there are ways to deal with the symptoms and still practice safe sex. You shouldn’t let it make you feel dirty or lower your confidence. Being educated and knowing how to deal with the situation is the best solution if you find out you have got something.
Unlike many other things, STIs do not discriminate against gender or sexual orientation. Being non-heterosexual or non-cisgender does not mean you cannot get STIs, or that you are less likely to be at risk of getting them if you are having sex. Even if you are not having penetrative sex between a penis and a vagina, you can still transmit infections and diseases, and get pregnant. STIs can be transmitted though skin on skin contact, from genitals to mouth, from sharing sex toys, not cleaning sex toys or packers properly, not using protection with sex toys or packers, and through getting someone else’s blood into your bloodstream through things like small cuts or abrasions on your genitals.
To prevent yourself from getting an STI you can take protective measures. As part of the Welfare service you can pick up free safe sex supplies from the Welfare Officer. This includes:
- Dental Dams
You can get these from me directly, or, I leave a selection outside the office during the drop in times that people are welcome to help themselves to. If you cannot make this time, send me an email and we will sort something out. If we don’t have the type of above listed items you need (e.g. latex free, different sizes) we can try to order some in on request. If you would like more information just ask.
When used correctly, condoms protect against pregnancy and STIs that can be transmitted through body contact and semen. To best prevent against pregnancy you should use a condom even if another form a birth control is being used. It is advised that you wear a condom if having penetrative sex using a packer, and with sex toys like dildos and strap-ons. Check the information from the product provider regarding which condoms and lube are advised.
Tips for Condom use:
- Find the brand that suits you: this includes getting the right size (which is measured by girth not length), texture or flavour.
- Store them appropriately away from sunlight and heat.
- Make sure they are in date, and have a CE or ‘Kitemark’ on the back.
- Only ever use a condom once, and with only one person.
- Using lubricant with condoms can be great. Lube can help make sex more comfortable and pleasurable, and prevent a condom from breaking due to too much friction. Always use lube that is safe to use with a condom, and with the packer or sex toy you are using.
To use, open the packet carefully, and remove the condom. Place the condom on the end of the erect phallus. If using on a penis squeeze the tip to removed air before rolling the condom down to store the semen after ejaculation. After sex, hold the condom at the base and roll it off. Dispose of in the bin not a toilet.
Dental dams are used to prevent the transmission of STIs when giving oral sex to someone on their vulva or anus. A dental dam is a rectangular or square piece of latex that is placed over the vulva or anus to act as barrier between direct contact with someone’s genitals.
Tips for using dental dams:
- You can get different flavours.
- You can make your own dental dam by cutting the ends of a condom off and slicing it down the middle to make one flat square of material. This is often easier than finding them yourself if you don’t want to get them from college/association welfare or buy them online.
- To help them stay in place, put a small amount of lubricant between the dental dam and the genitals. This will help stick it in place and can increase sensitivity through the material.
- Never reuse or share a dental dam.
Lubricant can be used to make sex more comfortable or pleasurable. It is used to decrease friction and enhance sexual arousal, or, for fun by using those with different flavours or which cause sensations such as tingling on the skin. Lube can be:
- Water Based – Easy to wash up, and safe to use with condoms and dental dams.
- Silicone Based – Safe to use with condoms and dental dams. These are water proof so may be better if you are having sex in the shower or bath. They may be a little harder to clean off, but you do not need as much as if you were using water based lube. These should not be used with silicone based packers or sex toys as they can break down these materials over time. If you are unsure, contact the provider and ask.
Remember to use lubricants you know are safe. Things like baby oil, butter, Vaseline, or moisturisers can irritate your genitals, increase the risk of infection, and break down latex, sex toys or packers.
If you are in a long-term sexual relationship you may choose to stop using protection against STI/STDs at some point. It is a good idea to go to a GUM clinic together before you stop using protection so you know you are free of STIs and can have sex without risking transmission of STIs. After this point trust is what is keeping you safe, so be responsible for yourself and your partner(s) by being honest about others you are having sex with.
Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics are places you can go to for free testing, treatment, and advice regarding your sexual health. You don’t need a referral from a GP, and normally you can just turn up to a drop in or make an appointment. GUM clinics are often better than going to a GP for sexual health concerns that do not involve pregnancy or pregnancy protection, as they know more and have the means to treat you if necessary. If you want to start a contraceptive method other than condoms, or think you might be pregnant and want to get tested and discuss options, the GP is probably better. You should register with a GP during freshers’ week.
County Durham GUM clinics
County Durham and Darlington NHS services aim to be inclusive of all gender identities and sexual and romantic orientations. At a GUM clinic it is standard practice to be asked details about your sexual history to help clinicians best address any problems you might be having. This may include:
- Recent or past sexual partners
- The type of sex you have had with these people
- The protection you have used before or are currently using
Some services may be offered to you on the basis of your sexual orientation making you more at risk for some STIs, for example, men who have sex with other men may be offered Hepatitis B vaccinations. If you are transgender you may be asked to discuss things related to your biological sex characteristics, or details of medical transition processes if you have chosen to have them such as hormones you are taking. It is normal for this kind of service to ask these questions so that they can treat you appropriately, and make you feel comfortable if you need to get any examinations or tests done.
You should feel able to openly talk about your sexual health with clinicians. These services are confidential, and should never make you feel uncomfortable because of your identity.
If an NHS staff member at a GUM clinic (or any other NHS service such as your GP) does make you feel uncomfortable or discriminated against because of your gender identity, sexual or romantic orientation you can make complaints using the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). This service can guide you through the complaints procedure if you feel it is necessary.
GUM clinics in the area include:
|Clinic||Contact Number||Opening times|
|Genitourinary Medicine Department University Hospital of North Durham, North Road, Durham DH1 5TW||0191 333 2660/2661 Main
0191 333 2927 Health Adviser
|Appointments can be booked Monday to Friday, Drop in is 14:00-16:30 Monday and 9:00-11:30 Wednesday.|
|Genitourinary Medicine Department Bishop Auckland General Hospital, Escomb Road Annexe, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham DL14 6AD
|01388 455700 Main Reception/ Appointments,
01388 455709 Health Adviser
|Appointments can be booked Monday to Friday, Drop in is Monday 8:30-11:00.|
|Genitourinary Medicine Department Darlington Memorial Hospital, Hollyhurst Road, Darlington DL3 6HX
|01325 743203 Main Reception/ Appointments,
01325 743982 Health Adviser
|Appointments can be booked Monday to Friday, Drop in is Monday 13:30-16.15 and Tuesday 11:00-17-00.|
|Lawson Street Health Centre, Stockton on Tees, TS18 1HU
|0300 330 1122 all inquiries||Appointments can be booked Monday to Friday, Drop in is Wednesday 13:00-18:00
|Eston Clinic, Fabian Road, Middlesbrough, TS6 9RQ||0300 330 112 all inquiries||Walk in only, Monday and Wednesday 18:00-21:00
These are the main clinics close to Durham students, but you can find more online at https://www.thesexualhealthhub.co.uk/clinic-search
MESMAS is a free HIV test service, which also provides information and support for LGBT+ individuals. The test is a simple finger prick test with pre and post test discussion and results within the hour. The people who perform the test are all fully trained by the New Croft Centre sexual health service in Newcastle and are either MESMAC or SHINE staff. The kit used is 99.7% accurate.
To make an appointment or for more information, call 0191 233 1333. The nearest MESMAC to Durham is on the 3rd floor of 11 Nelson Street, Newcastle, NE1 5AN.