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Sexual Health

Research shows that travel is linked to an increased risk of catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Travellers and tourists are known to take more risks than at home, and alcohol or recreational drug use also make risk-taking behaviour more likely. STIs might be more common in some countries, so having unprotected sex could put you at even more risk than it would at home.

Who is at risk?
People with STIs are often unaware they are infected and can look and feel completely well. STIs can be spread through any sexual contact: vaginal, anal and oral sex is riskier than most people realise. Unprotected sex with high risk groups like commercial sex workers dramatically increases the risk of contracting an STI, including HIV. Young heterosexual people aged 15-24, and men who have sex with men are at the highest risk of getting an STI.

How can I reduce my risk? 
Use a condom every time you have sex. Correctly fitting condoms are the only contraceptives that protect you from STIs. The quality and size of condoms available abroad varies greatly, so it’s best to carry your own. If you need to buy condoms abroad, check the expiry date and try to make sure they have a recognised quality mark. 

Certain STIs such as Hepatitis A, hepatitis B and some types of genital warts (linked to cervical cancer) can be prevented by vaccines, so check what vaccinations are recommended before travelling to high risk destinations. 

If you are worried?
People usually get symptoms a week to two weeks after contracting the disease. But if you have had unprotected sex, remember that not everybody who gets an STI has symptoms.  If you do get symptoms of an STI, they can include: 

  • unusual tiredness/malaise 
  • unusual discharge from the vagina or discharge from the penis 
  • pain when urinating 
  • itching, sores, blisters or lumps on or around the genitals 
  • in women, bleeding between periods or after sex 
  • HIV infection usually leads to a short, flu-like illness that occurs two to six weeks after infection. After this, HIV often causes no symptoms for several years.

Get advice from your GP or sexual health clinic if you have had unprotected sex whilst travelling. If you are still overseas, check your travel insurance as it may not cover you for tests and treatment for STIs or HIV. 

Remember, no symptoms does not mean you are free from an infection.

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