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The Guide to Sexual Health Whilst Travelling

If you are considering packing your bags and jetting off to travel the world, the chances are you are fairly care free, open to excitement and have an open-minded attitude to life. That's what travelling is all about, right?

Traveling is about first hand experiences that make you richer and many like to push the boundaries whilst in the spirit of the moment. The euphoria of being away from many stressful realities of day-to-day life often leads to sexual encounters. This is not to imply each traveller has this intention, but there may be an increased risk whilst abroad so its best to know before you go.

Whilst abroad it is more than likely that you will be exposed to glistening sun, gold sand beaches and cheap alcohol. All factors which are likely to enhance your mood and levels of adrenaline. Not to mention, backpackers are often in the company of many like-minded travellers that also have no strings attached. With mixed-sex accommodation and dedicated hostels for travellers and backpackers to meet new friends, of course there may be a higher chance you meet someone.

Whether you are visiting a sunny Greek island or backpacking across Australia, the risks are all still present. People often let their guard down and the temptation of sexual intercourse is all too much for many travellers.

Unprotected sex abroad can have the same results as when you are at home. It is not only important to protect yourself, but also to know where to find medical help, should you need it.

What if I get a sexual transmitted infection whilst travelling?

There's never a good time to be told you may have a sexually transmitted infection, and getting a scare is no exception. It isn't going to just disappear overnight, so what are your options whilst outside of the UK (or outside of the EU, where an EHIC may not be applicable)?

If there is a possibility you may have transmitted an STI abroad, in any instance you should seek appropriate medical advice. First off, check your insurance documentation and see whether you are covered for tests and treatment. Depending on where you are, the level of care will differ enormously. Some countries have exceptional health services, whilst others are not so thorough. Be sure to do your research and only visit trusted clinics.

If it is confirmed that you have contracted an STI and need treatment, be extra vigilant. As most antibiotics to treat an STI can be taken orally, it is often best to choose this option in developing countries. You should ask for a copy of the medication leaflet and also any tests and results. This will help doctors at home should you require further treatment.

Getting symptoms (or not) of an STI whilst abroad

If you have unprotected sex whilst abroad, it is important to remember that not everyone will get symptoms. Many, such as Chlamydia can go unnoticed. If you think you may be at risk, it is advised that you seek medical advice at the first possible opportunity.

Whilst many STIs go unnoticed, some common symptoms include unusual discharge, itching and soreness (mainly in genital areas) and pain when urinating. Some STIs may be more common in particular countries so having unprotected sex may leave you at higher risk than at home.

Depending on your planned length of travel, it may not be appropriate to leave this until you return home.

Worried about an STI now you are back home?

If you have recently returned from a trip abroad and are worried you may have an STI or be pregnant, it is advised you are checked by your GP, at a sexual health clinic or a community contraception clinic.

Take no chances and do this as soon as possible after you get home. You'll need to provide details of your sexual history and if you think you may be pregnant, a pregnancy test will be required. Your GP will be able to advise of your options from there.

Sexual health: Reducing the risk whilst travelling

 Whatever you are planning, it is always wise to pack condoms as a precaution. As the quality of condoms varies greatly abroad, always check the expiry date and ensure they have a recognised quality kite trademark. Under-standard protection may be unreliable and still leave you at risk. Travellers should prepare themselves with contraception, even if they are travelling without the intention of having a sexual encounter. Before you go, check with your local clinic about any available vaccinations that you can consider helping to protect against some STIs.

STIs are most commonly transmitted through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this doesn't mean they can't be transmitted in other ways. They can also be transmitted during oral sex and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas.

The nature of travel may lead to an increase in risk-taking behaviour such as alcohol and drug use. As mentioned earlier, this may increase a traveller's risk of having unprotected casual sex - be prepared.

Lastly, be aware of your surroundings and location as increased alcohol consumption can often leave you vulnerable to sexual assault; this can happen anywhere around the globe so try to minimise the risk by taking extra precautions and staying within a group and not wandering alone. For more information on what you should do, visit the government website.

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