Stay protected when having sex | Western Cape Government

Stay protected when having sex

(The Government of South Africa)

If you’re sexually active it’s possible that you might have a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and not even know it. STIs are a serious public health issue in South Africa and it’s important that you protect yourself against STIs. Most STIs can be treated and cured.

Couple with condomWhat's an STI?

Sexually Transmitted Infections are caused by germs passed from one person to another, mainly during unprotected sex. Most symptoms are easily noticed and treated if reported early to a sister at the clinic.

The difference between an STI and a sexually transmitted disease (STD), is that an STI is an infection that could turn into a disease. If you have an STI, it doesn’t mean that you will get an STD, however STIs could lead to serious health issues and needs to be treated immediately.  

Most common kinds of STIs

  • Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s usually spread by sexual contact that starts as a painless sore.
  • Genital herpes is a common STI marked by genital pain and sores.
  • Chlamydia is a common STI that may not cause symptoms. 
  • Genital warts are a common STI caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The characteristic symptom is a small bump on the genitals. 
  • Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that, if untreated, may cause infertility.
  • HIV is a virus that attacks cells in the immune system, which is our body’s natural defence against illness. AIDS is the last stage of HIV, when the infection is very advanced.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, is usually harmless and goes away by itself. Some types can lead to cancer or genital warts.

How's it transmitted?

An STI is passed on from one person to another during sexual contact, through bodily fluids as well as through the following ways:

  • If you touch the infected area of another person, and then touch yourself.
  • From mother to child during birth.
  • Through unsafe blood transfusions.
  • By sharing needles.
Signs and symptoms of an infection
  • Unusual fluids from your penis or vagina.
  • Swollen glands, body aches and fever.
  • Warts or sores on and around your penis or vagina.
  • Pains or burning when urinating.
  • Pain while having sex.
  • A rash or itching in and around your pubic area.
  • Small blisters on and around your penis or vagina.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Mild to severe lower abdominal pain, sometimes fever, with or without vaginal discharge.
  • Scrotal swelling.
Risk factors
  • Any unprotected penetrative sex (anal, vaginal or oral: anal = highest risk; vaginal = high risk; oral = lowest risk).
  • Frequency of unprotected penetrative sex (the more sex, the higher the risk).
  • More than one sexual partner.
  • Sexual coercion, abuse, violence, rape.
  • Alcohol or drug use in conjunction with sexual activity.
  • Use of pills or injections for family planning without consistent and correct condom use.
  • Any penetrative sex with a partner with an STI.
  • A partner with a history of recent STI.
How you can protect yourself

Using a condom properly can reduce the risk of getting infected. You should:

  • Check the expiry date on condom packaging before you use the condom.
  • Use condoms that are made of latex, as it’s more effective.
  • Open the condom packet carefully so that you don’t break the condom. Don't use your teeth.
  • Get tested for an STI or STD before having sex with your partner for the first time.
  • Avoid having sex when you're receiving treatment for an STI or STD.
  • Never reuse a condom.
  • Always put the condom on before you make any sexual contact.

Getting treatment

Never leave an STI untreated, it won’t go away on its own. If you think that you may have an STI, you can visit your doctor, a health care centre , a reproductive health facility or Marie Stopes, a non-profit organisation that provides reproductive and healthcare services.  

Check for an STIIf you suspect you have an STI, your health worker will do the following where appropriate:

  • Be prepared to discuss your sexual history.
  • Physical examination.
  • Testing for cervical cancer, if necessary, according to protocol.
  • Correct diagnosis and treatment.
  • Health education and counselling.
  • Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT).
  • Partner notification slip(s) issued to attend clinic and receive treatment.
  • Condom promotion, demonstration and provision.
  • Referral to other services as indicated (family planning, antenatal care, Prevention of mother to child transmission (MTCT) , Tuberculosis (TB), HIV treatment and care etc.) 
  • Record keeping (patient record, daily statistics).


You can prevent STIs by practicing safe sex. It is important to educate yourself about using condoms and safe sex practices.

The content on this page was last updated on 11 February 2020