Terrence Higgins Trust uses cookies to improve your experience of our websites. For more information or to change the use of cookies, please click here.

Accept and Close

A healthy sex life

a woman and man lying side-by-side and laughing

Sexual health means more than being free of sexually transmitted infections or avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. It means having the confidence and skills to ask for the sex that makes you feel good.

It also means respecting your partners and taking responsibility for their sexual health as well as your own.

Some of us have STIs that cannot be cured (such as HIV, or herpes) or that we live with long term (like hepatitis B or C). We can still have healthy, happy sex lives and good sexual health if these infections have been diagnosed and are being treated. 


Does HIV treatment prevent HIV transmission?

If someone with HIV is on effective treatment, they can stay healthy and protect their sexual partners from getting infected – if their viral load is undetectable, the level of HIV in the body is so low that transmission becomes highly unlikely.


How do we know this?

A large study called PARTNER has been looking at over 1,000 gay and straight couples where one partner is HIV positive and one is HIV negative. The study won’t finish until 2017 but early results have shown that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load and was on treatment, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex.

If you have HIV, having untreated STIs could make it more likely that you’ll pass on HIV during condomless sex. But if HIV drugs have made your viral load undetectable then STIs don’t appear to make you more likely to pass on HIV.


Where do I go for sexual health advice?

Good sexual health depends on regular check-ups.

These will make sure any STIs are quickly diagnosed and treated. Most people get checked at a sexual health clinic, which is usually part of a hospital.

You can go on your own or with a friend or partner and you don’t need to be sent by a doctor. It’s a free and confidential service, and staff should be friendly and not judge you.

‘Health advisers’ are clinic staff who aren’t doctors but you can talk to them about a wide range of things to do with sex and relationships. You can choose which clinic you go to.


Privacy of your health records

Some people prefer to get checked by their GP (family doctor) if the surgery offers this service (if not, you’ll be referred by your doctor to a clinic). Choose wherever you feel most comfortable.

Clinics are confidential and no-one is told of your visit or what tests and treatment you receive.

If you go to your GP any test and treatments will go on your medical notes.


How often should I get tested?

How often you should be checked depends upon how many people you have sex with:

If you don't have a regular partner and you have casual sex you should go at least once every six months.

If you have lots of sexual partners have a check-up more often than every six months.

If you get any symptoms that may be an STI (eg, sores, inflammation, discharge), go to a clinic straight away and don’t have sex until given the all-clear.

Before having sex at the start of a new relationship - have a check-up, especially if you're thinking about not using condoms (then HIV tests are strongly recommended). A sexual health screening should also include an HIV test.


How do I find a sexual health clinic?

For more about getting a sexual health check-up and to find local clinics, contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 or use our service finder.


Safer sex and HIV ››

 

Rate:

Empty Star Empty Star Empty Star Empty Star Empty Star (No votes cast) Please log in or register to vote. What's this?

Save:

Please log in or register to add this article to My favourites. What's this? Adding an article to My favourites will allow you to easily come back to it later or print it.


Your comments

You will need to be logged in before you can leave a comment.

Please log in using the form on the top right of the page or register.

The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 6/6/2016 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 6/6/2019

Content Author: R Scholey

Current Owner: Health Promotion

More information:

No one with an undetectable viral load, gay or heterosexual, transmits HIV in first two years of PARTNER study, Gus Cairns, NAM aidsmap, March 2014

Viral load and transmission, a factsheet for people with HIV, Gus Cairns, NAM aidsmap, September 2015

Viral load and transmission, a factsheet for HIV negative people, Gus Cairns, NAM aidsmap, September 2015

Genital herpes, NHS Choices, August 2014

Sexually transmitted infections, NHS Choices, April 2015

Hepatitis B, NHS Choices, March 2016

Hepatitis C, NHS Choices, July 2015

Visiting an STI clinic, NHS Choices, December 2015

What services do sexual health clinics (GUM clinics) provide? NHS, May 2015

M Carter, Prognosis, NAM, March 2012

M Carter, Infectiousness, NAM, September 2015

map with pin

Service finder

Find GU clinics and services near you.

condoms

Condoms

The easiest and most effective precaution to take against most STIs is using a condom.

PEP stopwatch

Taken a risk?

If you're worried about the sex you've had, take our risk assessment now.