What are sexual health services?
When you think about sexual health, your first thought might be protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) . We hear a lot about chlamydia and HIV infection, but do you need to worry about genital herpes, genital warts or gonorrhoea? Do you need to get tested after a recent encounter?
Or maybe you want to know how to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. What methods of contraception are there, and how can you access them? How do you access emergency contraception if you've had unprotected sex? What do you do if you discover you are pregnant and you didn't plan it?
But there's even more to sexual health than this. Sex isn't always part of a loving relationship - you may have been sexually assaulted or raped. Even here, there's sometimes confusion: What does consenting to sex mean? What do you do if you've been sexually assaulted? Can you get counselling?
Maybe you think you might have been exposed to HIV. Can you get tested confidentially? Can you access post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to reduce your risk of HIV? How effective is it?
Are sexual health services confidential?
Absolutely. You can visit your GP for some sexual health services and they will keep your details completely confidential. However, if you do not want even your GP to be informed, you can visit a sexual health service in confidence. The situations in which a clinic might break confidentiality are very rare and this would generally only be done if there was felt to be a significant safeguarding issue, such as sexual abuse of a child or other vulnerable person.
The team at your sexual health clinic may ask your permission to inform your GP. There are advantages to having details of all your medical care in one place, in your GP record. However, you have every right to say no. You will still receive exactly the same care, but nobody outside the clinic (including your GP) will be informed.
Are sexual health services free?
Sexual health services, treatment for HIV and contraception are always free - there is no prescription charge, even if you usually pay for your prescriptions.
What services are available in my area?
The services available vary across the UK. Each area sets priorities for sexual health depending on the needs of their local population. For instance, students at universities might want to access services at different times from people with jobs.
Most services are provided by counties. You may find there are several clinics in your county, and some services are only provided by certain of those clinics.
Services available in some or all areas include:
- Condom supply.
- Contraception (including emergency contraception).
- HIV testing (including self-testing in some areas).
- LGBT specific services.
- PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) to reduce the risk of developing HIV infection if you may have been exposed.
- Pregnancy testing.
- PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to reduce the risk of contracting HIV in future encounters.
- Psychosexual counselling (usually available only on GP referral).
- Rape or sexual assault support.
- Sexually transmitted infection screening and treatment (including self-testing in some areas).
- Unplanned pregnancy advice.
- Young people's services (under 22 or under 25, depending on area).
The good news is that if you click on the link for your area in the list below, you can find details of all the services offered in your area.
If you have an unplanned pregnancy, you may have mixed feelings about what to do next.
In many areas you can refer yourself to discuss your options with an abortion provider. Please look on the individual pages below for your area.
Alternatively, you can contact MSI Reproductive Choices UK (formerly Marie Stopes UK) 365 days of the year on 0345 300 8090 or use their website to find out about services in your area.
Finding sexual health services
Just look below for the area you live in (mostly organised by county below) and click on the link. This will take you to a page which lists all the services in your area and explains how you can access them directly.
Please be aware that self-referral is not available in every part of the UK. If you can't find sexual health services you're looking for below, or if any of the links are not working, please search the NHS website or contact your GP.
Sexual health services in England (outside London)
Tameside and Glossop Lancashire
Sexual health services in London
London (free home STI testing kit)
Central and North West London
South West London
Sexual health services in Isle of Man
Sexual health services in Jersey
Jersey sexual health services
Sexual health services in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland-wide details on sexual health services and self-referral services
Sexual health services in Scotland
Scotland-wide details on sexual health services and self-referral services
Western Isles (contraception and family planning)
SH:24 is commissioned in some areas of the UK to provide sexual health and contraception services by post - you can put your postcode into their website to see if they operate in your area.
While every effort is made to keep these details up to date, the company cannot be held responsible for links to NHS services. If you have any queries, please contact your GP.
Dr Hazell used to work as a clinical assistant in a sexual health service. She has been paid to write articles and give presentations for a variety of organisations on the subject of sexual health.
Further reading and references
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research (SRH); World Health Organization