Sexually transmitted infections – commonly known as STIs – are not the best thing about sex. They are infections that can be caught, or passed on, when you have sex or when you have close sexual contact with another person.

But even if you’re not having sex right now, you still need to know about them so that you will know how to protect yourself against them if and when you do decide to have sex. STIs are a lot more common than you might think.

Avoiding STIs

If you’re having sex, the best way to avoid STIs is to use a condom every time.

STIs are usually passed on by sex with an infected person, although some infections can be passed on in other ways as well.  STIs can be caught during oral (licking, kissing or sucking someone’s genitals), vaginal or anal sex and some can also be passed through sexual touching and skin-to-skin contact

Even if you’re using other kinds of contraception to prevent pregnancy, like the pill, you should still use a condom as well.

Using a condom every time you have sex is the only way to protect yourself from STIs as well as pregnancy. If you have any questions about using condoms or want to get free condoms in Bristol, visit a C Card Venue.  You can also contact Ask Brook on 0808 802 1234. Your call will be confidential. That means we won’t tell anyone about it.

Condoms and dental dams

Using a condom or a dental dam when you have sex is the most effective way to reduce your risk of picking up or passing on an STI, including HIV.

Use a condom for vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex. Male or female condom  – it doesn’t matter – they both work. A condom acts as a barrier and stops body fluids from mixing during vaginal, oral or anal sex.

Dental dams are small squares of latex which work well as a barrier during sex involving contact between the mouth and the vagina or mouth and the anus.

You can get FREE condoms from all kinds of places. Use the directory below to search for free condoms across Bristol or buy condoms from chemists, petrol stations, supermarkets or machines in public toilets, bars and clubs. Dental Dams are available from GUM clinics and Brook centres.

Always make sure the condom has a BSI kitemark or CE mark on the wrapper. That means they’ve been machine-tested to a really high standard.

Getting tested

It’s important to get tested once a year or after each sexual partner. The staff at our clinics are really friendly and won’t judge you. Plus they do this work every day and nothing you say or show them will phase them! Check out RIFE magazine’s guide to getting tested.

Signs and Symptoms of STIs

Many STIs have similar symptoms. Some don’t have any at all. So don’t even think about diagnosing or treating yourself without talking to someone who is trained.

Keep an eye open for tell-tale signs and be ready to ask for advice and help if you need to. If you’re at all worried, it might even be a good idea to have a check-up anyway just to be sure you’re in the clear.

If you want to talk to someone, you can always contact Ask Brook on 0808 802 1234. Your call will be confidential. That means we won’t tell anyone about it. You can also search for services in Bristol that offer screening and advice using the directory on Your local Services

You can find out about the particular symptoms of individual STIs in the Types of STIs at the bottom of this page, but to help you, here are some common symptoms to look out for:


  • Discharge from the penis
  • Sore, tender or inflamed penis head
  • Testicle ache or pain


  • Unusual vaginal discharge – a change in texture or colour
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Sore, tender or inflamed vulva

Men or Women

  • Stinging sensation when you urinate
  • Itching, blisters or sores in the genital region. Also the mouth.
  • Pain during sex
  • Anal discharge or itching
  • Feverish, flu-like symptoms with any of the above

Remember – some STIs don’t have any symptoms at all. But if anything in this list does ring alarm bells, or someone you’ve slept with tells you they have an STI, or if you’re worried you might have taken a risk, get yourself checked out immediately.

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