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Sexual health and preventing pregnancy

Using some form of contraception is the most reliable way to prevent unplanned pregnancies. If you're sexually active, condoms can help to protect you from infections that you can get if you're having unprotected sex.

The basics of contraception

Are you thinking about having sex for the first time, or have you been sexually active for a while? Whatever your situation is, it's vital that you’ve got all the information about contraception you need.

You must use condoms to protect yourself from infections that can spread through unprotected sex. These are called sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Types of contraception

There are many types of contraception available for both men and women. Some that you may have heard of include:

  • condoms
  • the pill
  • long acting methods – implants or injections
  • IUDs

Contraception is very effective at preventing pregnancy but needs to be used correctly to work! That’s why it’s very important that you find the method that suits you. But whichever method of contraception you choose, everyone needs to use condoms to protect against STIs.  

Contraception and condoms are free from your GP, family planning clinics or young people’s contraceptive services. You can also buy condoms from pharmacies and supermarkets.

Remember that it’s against the law for people under the age of 16 to have sex (in Northern Ireland, the age of consent is 17). However, you can still get confidential contraceptive advice from a doctor or nurse if you’re below this age.

Emergency contraception

If you’ve had unprotected sex, you can still stop an unintended pregnancy by using emergency contraception.

Emergency contraception is only available for girls and comes in the form of an emergency contraceptive pill (known as the morning after pill) or an inter-uterine device (IUD).

Emergency contraception is more effective the quicker you act. If you’ve had unprotected sex, you should visit your GP or local sexual health centre as soon as possible.

You should only use emergency contraception in an emergency and not as a regular form of contraception. Emergency contraception helps to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex but is not as effective as other contraceptive methods.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

STIs are passed on through unprotected sex and some are more serious than others. The types of STI that you may have heard of include:

  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhoea
  • herpes
  • syphilis
  • genital warts

Each STI has a range of different symptoms. Some of these aren’t obvious, meaning that you could be carrying an infection without even being aware of it.

Wearing condoms can protect you against STIs and most of these infections can be treated easily if they’re discovered early. They can have serious consequences for your health if they’re left untreated, so don't hang around.

If you think you may have caught an STI, visit your doctor or local sexual health centre as soon as possible.

Sexual health clinics

You can get contraception and sexual health advice from your regular GP. However, you may want to go to a different clinic for help and advice about sexual health. Staff who work at these clinics can give you tests and treatments for STIs and free contraception.

Anything that you tell your GP or a nurse will be kept confidential and any treatment will not be added to your medical records.

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