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Contraception health centre

Women's health 18-39 - Sexual health Q&A

NHS ChoicesFeature

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Sex doctor Anne Edwards answers questions on emergency contraception, chlamydia and HIV.

I had unprotected sex last night. What should I do?

You can get emergency contraception (also known as the morning-after pill) at pharmacies. Some pharmacies provide free emergency contraception to women of all ages, including under-16s. You can buy it from most pharmacies if you're 16 or over for around £26.

The morning-after pill can prevent you getting pregnant and you can take it up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, not just the morning after. But the sooner you take it, the more effective it is. Some pharmacies are open overnight - just go as soon as possible.

It's also available free to all women, including girls under 16, from:

  • any GP (not just your own) providing contraceptive services
  • community contraception clinics (formerly family planning clinics)
  • Brook (Brook Advisory Centres), for under-25s only
  • some hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments
  • walk-in clinics
  • some sexual health (GUM) clinics

If it's been more than 72 hours since you had sexual intercourse, don't panic: go to your community contraceptive clinic. They might be able to fit an emergency IUD (coil). This can be fitted up to five days from the time you had sex. Once it's been fitted you can keep it in as a regular method of contraception.

If you have had unprotected sex, you're also at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), so visit a GP or sexual health clinic to get tested. 

Read more about emergency contraception.

How do I know if I've got chlamydia?

Go for a sexual health check at your local NHS GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinic.

Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK, but 75% of women have no symptoms. If left untreated, it can leave you infertile. The new tests for chlamydia are very straightforward and you may not need a full examination.

You can find details of your nearest clinic:

  • using the service search
  • in the phone book under genitourinary (GUM) or sexual health clinic  
  • by calling the sexual health information line on 0800 567 123
  • visiting the FPA website 

Read more about getting tested for chlamydia.

Can I get HIV without having sex?

The majority of HIV infection worldwide has been spread through sexual intercourse. The other main way is through needle-sharing by drug-users and, in the developing world, through childbirth or breastfeeding.

There is a very small number of cases where HIV seems to have been transmitted by oral sex.

Day-to-day living or working with someone with HIV is not a risk to anyone else because the virus is hard to catch, except by intimate contact with bodily fluids.

Read more about HIV and Aids.

You can help protect yourself against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections by using a condom correctly every time you have sex.

The condom needs to be put on the penis (or inside the vagina, if it's a female condom) before there is any contact between the genitals.

Medical Review: September 19, 2012

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