Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection you get from someone else during sexual activity. There are lots of different kind of STIs, all with different preventions, symptoms and treatment options. With the right protection, good communication and regular sexual health checks, most STIs can be avoided or easily managed.

This can help if:

  • you want to learn about the causes, symptoms and treatment of STIs

  • you’re sexually active

  • you want to know how to prevent STIs.

Thumbs up condom

What is an STI?

Any infection you get from sexual activity (kissing, touching, oral sex or intercourse) is known as a sexually transmitted infection. Some common STIs include:

  • chlamydia

  • herpes/cold sores

  • genital warts/HPV

  • HIV

  • hepatitis A, B and C

  • gonorrhoea

  • syphilis

  • pubic lice.

Common symptoms of STIs

STIs have short-term and longer-term symptoms. In the short term, you could experience the following (usually in your genital/bum region):

  • itching/irritation

  • pain (in genital and lower abdominal regions)

  • rashes

  • leaking/discharge from your genitals or anus

  • burning when you pee

  • discomfort

  • feeling feverish.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should find out about getting a sexual health check.

Some STIs don’t have obvious symptoms, which means you can have one without knowing it. This is a problem in the long run because you can unknowingly infect other people. You could also end up with permanent damage to your reproductive and sexual organs. Getting regular sexual health checks is an easy way to be sure you aren’t carrying an STI.

How can I prevent STIs?


  • Talk to your doctor about sexual health and get regular sexual health checks.

  • Be open with your sexual partners about your sexual history and health. It’s okay to ask them if they’ve ever had an STI or have been tested recently.

  • Learn how to communicate about sexual health stuff.

Practise safe sex

The following things are particularly important with new sexual partners:

  • If you or your sexual partner has a visible infection (sores or a rash), don’t touch or rub the affected area.

  • Use protection for vaginal, anal and oral sex. Always check the use-by date, as old condoms can break easily.

  • Use a water-based lubricant to reduce the chance of the condom breaking.

  • Use a new condom each time you have sex (even if he didn’t ejaculate). Never wash out a condom and use it again.

  • Use a dental dam (a thin plastic barrier) for female oral sex.

  • Use gloves for vaginal and anal fingering.

Get regular sexual health checks

  • If you regularly have sex with new or different partners, get a sexual health check every three months.

  • If you’re in a long-term relationship and you’re sexually active, get a sexual health check at least once a year.

You can get a sexual health check with any GP or at a sexual health centre.

Treating STIs

STI treatment differs based on the type of infection you have. Most infections are cured with a simple antibiotic or antifungal treatment. Those that can’t be cured can be managed with ongoing medical treatment.

What can I do now?

  • Read about specific STIs - herpes/cold sores, gonorrhoea, syphilis, pubic lice.