Sexual Health

Unprotected sex with one person isn't just with one person. Get checked. No regrets.

Get checked. No regrets.

More people in Canberra are getting Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs) like chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

STIs often don’t have symptoms, so anyone who’s had sex could have an STI without even knowing it. The only way to know is to get a sexual health check.

If you’ve had vaginal, oral or anal sex, you’re at risk of catching an STI – even if you usually use a condom.

What’s an STI?

Sexually Transmissible Infections, known as STIs, are passed through oral, vaginal or anal sex or when sharing sex toys.

They occur when viruses, bacteria or parasites pass from one person to another during sex or intimate skin-on-skin contact, like oral sex.

STIs include:

Getting an STI check – how does it work?

Getting an STI check is quick and easy and is a normal part of a healthy sex life.

Most STIs are easily treated, so the earlier you get checked, the quicker you can get the right treatment.

There are quite a few different checks you can have.

Peeing in a cup is the most common test for common STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

Sometimes the doctor or nurse may request to take a swab from the back of your throat. You may also have a vaginal or anal swab which can be performed by yourself or the doctor or nurse you see. Sometimes you may also have a blood test to detect STIs, like syphilis.

Your health professional will explain which test is the best for you.

It may feel a bit awkward but remember, there’s nothing your doctor or nurse hasn’t seen before. Their main priority is your health. The sooner you get in and have it sorted, the better it will be for you and your partner.

Your STI results are confidential. Occasionally, we might collect data for reporting, but it’s just numbers. Your name, address and other identifiable information is never provided.

Where can I get an STI check?

Getting an STI check is simple and is a normal part of a healthy sex life.

In the ACT, you can be checked for STIs at:

Use our Service Locator below to find the most convenient, free and/or low-cost centre near you.

 

How often should I get checked?

If you’re having sex, you need to get an STI check.

Sexual health is different for everyone, but at a minimum you should get checked at least every 12 months and after every new partner – even if you are in a long term relationship and even if you use condoms.

If you regularly have sex with new or different partners or have other sexual health needs, you may need to get checked more often. Speak with your health care provider about how often to get an STI check and what checks you need.

You don’t need to be experiencing any symptoms of an STI or feel unwell to get an STI check.

Getting an STI check is part of being in control of your health, and taking care of yourself and your sexual partner/s.

Make a sexual health check a normal part of your routine, just like visiting the dentist or booking your car for a service.

Treating an STI

Many STIs are easily treated once they’re diagnosed. Treatments for different types of STIs can include:

  • antibiotics for the most commonly diagnosed STIs – chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis
  • medicated shampoos for pubic lice

Viruses, like genital herpes, HIV, hepatitis B and HPV do not have a cure, but in most cases, there are treatments to help control the growth of the virus and help prevent symptoms and onward transmission to a sexual partner.

Find out more

You can read more about STIs and sexual health below. There are also many other great resources and websites like Playsafe, a NSW Government website with heaps of info for young people, and All Good, which has easy information in 22 different languages.
 

STI symptoms

It’s important to know that STIs often don’t have symptoms.

This means that anyone can pass one on without even knowing. It also means you can’t tell if someone has one by looking at them or by asking if they feel like they’ve got one.

When people have STI symptoms they can include:

  • unusual discharge from the genitals or anus, including bleeding
  • a sore, wart, lump, rash or blister on the genitals or around the anus
  • pain and difficulty passing urine
  • bad pain in the pelvic or lower abdomen area
  • sore dry throat
  • conjunctivitis (eye inflammation)
  • flu-like symptoms

Some people may also experience:

  • painful or swollen testicles
  • discomfort or irritation at the tip of the penis from the urethra
  • pain during sex
  • painful, irregular periods and/or bleeding between periods or after sex

Sometimes people may get symptoms, but they disappear. This does not mean the infection has gone away. You remain infected until you receive treatment so it’s important to get checked no matter how you feel.

I’ve got an STI – what should I do?

If caught early, STIs can be easy to treat. The earlier you detect it the better for your health. If you have an STI, you’ll have to:

  • Press pause on sex for a moment.
  • Get treated. You’ll want to avoid passing the infection on to your sexual partners.
  • Tell your sexual partner(s). They’ll need to be tested too and possibly treated to avoid passing it back to you or to another partner.

It’s important to tell your current or past sexual partners so they get tested and treated, to help stop the spread of STIs.

Your doctor or sexual health nurse can discuss with you the best way to inform contacts. If you have any difficulties in contacting sexual partners, your healthcare provider or a sexual health clinic may be able to assist.

There are also internet-based services that can help you:

What happens if you don’t treat an STI?

If left untreated, STIs can cause long-term health problems, like chronic pain, miscarriages and infertility, which are harder to treat. It's also important to know that being checked and/or treated for STIs doesn’t stop you from getting them again.

Untreated STIs can lead to:

  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • painful infection in the testicles
  • infertility
  • miscarriages
  • birth defects
  • infection in the joints (septic arthritis) and brain (meningitis)
  • damage to body tissues, including the brain, heart, large blood vessels, the spinal cord, skin and bones – leading to disability and death
  • a person’s baby becoming very sick
  • neonatal death.

Most STIs don’t have symptoms—the only way to know if you have one is to get checked.

How can I reduce my risk of getting an STI?

The best way to reduce your risk of getting an STI is to use condoms and get checked at least every year, and after every new partner.

Unprotected sex with one person isn’t just with one person. That’s why using a condom or dental dam every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex is so important! It’s the only way to protect yourself from most STIs during sex.

Condoms act as a physical barrier to prevent transmission of a range of STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis. They can also prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Change the condom every time you change the type of sex you’re having and throw condoms away after each use. A dental dam, which is a flat square of latex, can also be used when having oral sex by placing it over the vulva, vagina or anus.

If you have a new sexual partner, you might discuss the possibility of each of you having a sexual health check before you have sex.

If you or your partner have been diagnosed with an STI, you should ensure you both access and complete treatment before you decide to have sex without condoms.

You can also pick up free condoms and lubricant in the ACT at:

What are the most common STIs?

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the ACT, and rates have been steadily increasing since 2007.

Most people will have no symptoms so you may not know you have an STI.

Anyone can catch chlamydia by having sex without a condom.

If detected early, chlamydia is easily treated and usually just needs a one-off dose of antibiotics.

If left untreated, chlamydia can have serious complications: 

  • In women or people who have a cervix, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can affect your fertility and cause chronic pain.
  • In men or people with testicles, chlamydia can occasionally cause a painful infection of the testicles, which can affect your fertility.  

Gonorrhoea

Rates of gonorrhoea have more than doubled in the ACT since 2015.

Many people have no symptoms.

If left untreated, gonorrhoea can have serious complications:

  • In women or people who have a cervix, gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can affect your fertility and cause chronic pain.  Gonorrhoea can also be transmitted from mother to baby, which may cause eye infections and other complications in a newborn.
  • In men or people with testicles, gonorrhoea can occasionally cause a painful infection of the testicles, which can affect your fertility.
  • Occasionally, gonorrhoea can also infect a person’s prostate (prostatitis), joints (septic arthritis) and your brain (meningitis)

Syphilis

Rates of syphilis have more than tripled in the ACT since 2015.

Half of people with syphilis may not have any symptoms.

If detected early, syphilis is usually easy to treat with antibiotics.

If left untreated for many years, syphilis can be a very serious disease that can damage many body tissues including the brain, heart, large blood vessels, the spinal cord, skin and bones. This can lead to disability and death.

Syphilis can also infect unborn babies and make them very sick and at risk of neonatal death.

ACT Sexual health services

Canberra Sexual Health Centre

Canberra Sexual Health Centre is a specialist clinic providing professional and non-judgmental care.
They provide free testing and treatment for STIs and is the region’s largest HIV outpatient service.

Hepatitis ACT

Hepatitis ACT is the ACT’s community hepatitis organisation. They work to help prevent hepatitis transmission in our community and reduce the impacts for people affected.

The Junction Youth Health Centre

The Junction Youth Health Service provides free primary health care and support services to young people aged 12 to 25, along with their dependent children. They have a particular focus on young people who are homeless or otherwise experience (or are at risk of) disadvantage.

M Clinic

The M-Clinic is an after-hours clinic providing free, quick and convenient STI and HIV checkups for men who have sex with men without symptoms.

Meridian ACT

Meridian (formerly AIDS Action Council ACT) has been advocating for, and supporting our community for over 30 years. Meridian’s mission is to work with individuals, communities and partner organisations to virtually eliminate new HIV transmissions, provide support for individuals and families living with and impacted by HIV, and build a strong and safe community that is free of discrimination, marginalisation and stigma. Meridian ACT also provide specific health and support services for individuals who identify as LGBTIQA+ and sex workers.

Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT)

Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT) offers a holistic, confidential and respectful service to Canberra and the region. All doctors and nurses have specialist sexual & reproductive health qualifications and approach all matters sensitively. SHFPACT doctors and nurses are all female.

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Service (WNAHCS) provides a culturally safe, holistic health care service for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the ACT and surrounding regions. The holistic health care provided by WNAHCS includes not only medical care, but a range of programs to promote good health and healthy lifestyles.

Info and resources

Abortion access

Finding out you are pregnant is different for everyone. Regardless of your situation, this may be a stressful time where you may need information and support to feel confident to make a decision that is right for you.

A Gender Agenda

A Gender Agenda (AGA) is a community organisation actively engaged in increasing public awareness and understanding of intersex, trans and gender diversity issues. In addition to training and education, they provide advocacy and support services, information and resources and are actively engaged in human rights and law reform.

All Good

All Good provides easy to understand information on STIs in 22 different languages. All Good also provides additional information on getting an STI check.

Marie Stopes Australia

Marie Stopes Australia provides respectful, non‑judgemental and non‑directive counselling to provide accurate information and support to people experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

Playsafe

The NSW Government Play Safe website has everything young people need to know about safe sex, condoms, STI testing and treatment. It also has a range of interactive features for self-assessment and peer support.

QLife

QLife provides anonymous and free LGBTQI+ peer support and referral for people in Australia wanting to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.

Sexual Assault Care

Forensic and Medical Sexual Assault Care (FAMSAC) provides a safe and caring environment for victims of sexual assault. The service is free to all patients and information and treatment is strictly confidential.

The Sexual Health, Lifestyle and Relationships Program (SHLiRP)

SHLiRP is a program delivered by Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT) and the Canberra Sexual Health Centre, that brings sexual health screening clinics, and sexual health/sexuality education to secondary colleges in the ACT.

Young Deadly Free

Young Deadly Free is all about raising awareness of STIs and bloodborne viruses (BBVs) affecting young people in regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Page last updated on: 21 Apr 2022