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Sexual Health

In the UK, the number of people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is rising, and teenage pregnancy rates remain high. A recent report by the Health Protection Agency suggests that STIs have been rising in number consistently since the 1990s, with the highest increases in recent years being seen in the 16-24 age group. The most commonly diagnosed infection is Chlamydia, which over 100,000 people in the UK experienced in 2005. In addition, there is a low perception of risk in relation to sexually transmitted diseases for many people, but this is not necessarily the case. It’s very important to be educated about sexual health and contraception, and to know what the risks are and how to minimise them.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Most STIs can be treated, and treatment is most effective when started as soon as possible. For this reason, if you suspect that you have the symptoms of an STI, it’s important to contact your doctor or another point of contact who can confirm it – see below for more information about who you can contact. If you don’t treat the infection, it can get worse over time and may permanently damage your health or fertility, as well as the health of others if you pass it on. Some infections, such as herpes and HIV, cannot currently be cured, but there are medicines available that can minimise their symptoms.

The most common STIs are:

Other STIs include Syphilis, HIV, and Trichomoniasis.

All of these infections are easily passed from person to person through sexual contact. You cannot catch an STI from hugging, sharing baths or towels, swimming pools, toilet seats, or sharing cutlery or plates.

Pharmacy2U offer a convenient and confidential Online Doctor consultation for sexually transmitted infections, which could lead to prescription strength treatments being prescribed where appropriate.

Prevention against STIs

There are many easy ways to minimise your risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection.

  • Use a condom, male or female, and use it correctly. If you are not sure how to, see the advice on the FPA website
  • For oral sex, cover the genitals with a condom or a latex square (dental dam)
  • Avoid sharing sex toys.

Testing for STIs

If you think you may have an STI, it’s very important to have a test to make sure, so that you can quickly obtain the correct treatment and advice.

You may be reluctant to go for a test because you will expect it to be embarrassing, however there are clinics all over the UK that can offer free and confidential tests and advice without judging your sexual behaviour. All tests are optional and will only be undertaken with your permission.

You will find details of your local clinic in the telephone directory, under “sexual health”, “genitourinary medicine (GUM)” or “sexually transmitted infections (STI)”.

Also, there are several home testing kits that can be purchased from pharmacies, enabling you to undertake a test at home. Click here Click Here to visit.

Treatments for STIs

If an STI is not treated, the infection is very unlikely to go away by itself, and can develop to cause other health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, and a painful infection in the testicles in men, both of which can lead to fertility problems.

Treatment for STIs is available from the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service, for more information, click here.

Other Genital Infections

Thrush (Candidiasis)

Vaginal thrush is caused by an infection with the Candida fungus; this is an organism that is normally present on the skin, which is kept in check by the action of the immune system and also the presence of other harmless organisms. It does not require special testing or referral to a clinic like the STIs above, and can usually be treated quickly and easily.

For more details, see our main health information article on vaginal thrush.


Cystitis is a bacterial infection of the urethra (urine passage), and although this is not strictly a genital infection, the symptoms can be mistaken for those of an STI. Cystitis causes a burning pain on passing urine, and a desire to pass urine more often than normal. There will be no unusual vaginal discharge. It does not usually require referral to a doctor or clinic.

For more details, see our main health information cystitis.


There are many methods of contraception; the right method for you might be different at different times of your life. Many types of contraception can be less effective if they are not used properly, so it’s important that you know what choices are available to you.

Most people will know about condoms, and “the pill”, however there are several other methods of effective contraception that are perhaps less well-known, most of which are listed below – there are many choices, some of which you might not have been aware of.

  • Condoms – male and female condoms are available
  • Contraceptive pills – ‘combined’ pills or ‘mini’ pills - available through our Online Doctor Service.
  • Diaphragm (‘cap’) with spermicide
  • Contraceptive injections
  • Contraceptive implants
  • Intrauterine system (IUS) or device (IUD)
  • Natural family planning methods
  • Male or female sterilisation

Contraception is free for women and men of all ages through the NHS.

For more information and advice about these methods and their relative effectiveness, see the FPA website or talk in confidence with your doctor or practice nurse, pharmacist, or family planning clinic.

Emergency Contraception

If you have had sex without using contraception, or you think your contraception might have failed, there are two methods of emergency contraception that you can use.

  • The emergency hormonal pill, which is more effective the earlier it is taken after sex. It must be taken up to three days (72 hours) after sex. It is available from your doctor, or you can ask your local pharmacist, now available without a prescription when appropriate (Levonelle One Step).
  • Alternatively, the morning after pill is available through our Online Doctor service.
  • An IUD (intrauterine device), which must be fitted up to five days after sex, or up to five days after the earliest time you could have released an egg (ovulation).

Where to go for further advice

Family Planning Association (fpa) - website with details and advice about all aspects of sexual health. For confidential advice on the telephone, call them on 0845 310 1334 (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm)

Sexual Health Information Line - call 0800 567 123 for details of GUM or sexual health clinics.

More information about sex and contraception for young people can be obtained from Brook on 0800 0185 023, or Sexwise on 0800 28 29 30.

Erectile Dysfunction (ED, impotence)

Most men, at some point in their lives, suffer with the occasional erection problem often associated with stress, tiredness or drinking too much alcohol. However it is estimated that at least one in ten men suffer with frequent and long-standing erection problems (erectile dysfunction). 

It is estimated that only 10% of men who suffer with frequent and long-standing erection problems actually seek medical assistance. This is remarkable since effective treatments are available for many men that can really help.

If a physical cause is the main problem, such as a hormonal imbalance, addressing this can remove the erection problems. In some cases surgery can ensure normal blood flow is restored. Treatment of depression can remove erection problems caused by this.

In many cases, medicines will be prescribed by a patient’s doctor to directly assist the body to create and maintain a good erection. These medicines can either be injected into the penis, such as Caverject (alprostadil); inserted into the eye of the penis, such as Muse (alprostadil); or taken as a tablet by mouth, such as Cialis (tadalafil), Levitra (vardenafil), and Viagra (sildenafil).

Vacuum pumps, such as the Erecaid and Rapport Premier devices, are another option to help men with erection problems get a good erection, and can be prescribed on the NHS under certain circumstances, or they are available to purchase from most pharmacies. 

Prescription strength treatments for erectile dysfunction are available through our convenient & confidential Online Doctor service, for more information click here

Painful intercourse

Vaginismus is a condition where the vaginal muscles go into spasm, causing the vagina to feel tight and often making sexual intercourse impossible. This may be due to a number of reasons including fear and pain of penetration, gynaecological surgery or trauma following childbirth.

Dyspareunia can also inhibit sexual intercourse as it may cause pain and discomfort upon penetration. This is often associated with vaginal dryness or infection.

Treatment involves a discussion with a sexual therapist, and the use of vaginal dilation exercises with different sized plastic dilators, ultimately with the aim of allowing the woman to have normal sexual intercourse without pain or discomfort.

Products to promote positive sexual health

There are several products available from Pharmacy2U that can help to promote your sexual wellbeing:

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