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Sexual Health Risks

Introduction

During travel people often feel ‘free’ from their normal lives and habits and change their behaviour patterns. Having sex with a new or casual partner whilst travelling is not uncommon and is often unplanned. Sex during travel is often unprotected (sex without a condom). Sex without a condom increases the risk of travellers catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Sex tourism and sex workers
Sex abroad is not always unplanned. Sex tourism is when people travel for the purpose of buying sex and both men and women travel for this reason. This often involves sex workers in countries that have high rates of STIs including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

In some countries, particularly in Asia and South America, you may be openly propositioned by commercial sex workers. These are often countries where STIs, especially among sex workers are common. Additionally, in some cultures business travellers may be offered hospitality that includes sex workers. Unprepared travellers may be taken unawares and participate in risky behaviour that they would not consider at home.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

STI's can be caught during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Some of the more common STIs include:

  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhoea
  • trichomoniasis
  • genital warts
  • genital herpes
  • pubic lice
  • scabies
  • syphilis
  • blood borne viruses (hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV)

STI's, even if they cause no symptoms can cause longer term problems such as infertility and cancer, and can be passed to sexual partners. Certain STI's can be passed to a baby during pregnancy and childbirth.

The majority of STIs can be diagnosed quickly and easily treated.

Further information on STIs and symptoms including patient information leaflets on specific STIs are available from:

Sexual Health Risk Reduction

The best way to prevent STIs is to have safer sex. For detailed information please see The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) Guide to Safer Sex.

Take condoms with you when you travel, even if you aren’t planning to have sex. Excess alcohol and recreational drugs can increase your likelihood of having unprotected sex.

You should use a condom for vaginal, anal or oral sex.

  • As reliable condoms may be difficult to find in some countries you should take condoms with the British Kite Mark with you.
  • Latex condoms are easily damaged by oil based lubricants e.g. Vaseline, baby oil and suntan lotion.
  • Non-latex condoms can be used if you or your partner has a latex allergy (or if using creams or treatments that damage latex condoms).
  • Condoms perish with age, and heat, and you should discard them if they are out of date or show any signs of being brittle, sticky or discoloured.
  • If used perfectly, a condom reduces the likelihood of you catching and passing on STIs but it does not guarantee that you will not catch an STI.

Vaccination

Although the majority of STIs cannot be prevented through vaccination, some can be. Vaccines are available to help prevent:

These should be discussed with you during a travel consultation.

Contraception

Unprotected sex may also lead to unplanned pregnancies. Before travelling all travellers should consider:

  • If your current contraception is suitable for your intended travel, preventing both unplanned pregnancy and STIs.
  • How you or your partner would access emergency contraception while abroad.

Information is available on the fitfortravel contraception page.

Sexual Health Screening

If you have had a new sexual partner whilst travelling, you should get a sexual health screen.

Your local sexual health clinic can be located on the following websites:

Sexual Assault and Rape

Sexual assault and rape can happen to anyone, of any age and background.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has reported increasing numbers of travellers, both male and female, seeking consular assistance following sexual assault and rape.

Please see the Sexual Assault and Rape section of the Personal Safety page for more detailed advice and information.

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