If you are sexually active, it is very important that you look after your sexual health. This includes preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), avoiding unwanted pregnancies, and keeping yourself safe and mentally well!
The Advice Place is an NHS Lothian C:Card point, which means we can give you FREE condoms and other safer sex products once you've signed up for a c:card. You can find out more information about how to sign up here.
We also offer free pregnancy tests at our Potterrow office. We do not require any personal information and you will be provided with a test, no questions asked. If you have any questions or concerns, we are happy to speak to you in a private room.
There are many different methods of contraception to choose from if you and your partner want to protect yourselves from sexually transmitted infections and/or unwanted pregnancy.
Long-term contraception such as the contraceptive pill, implant, patch or injection can protect against unwanted pregnancy. These methods, however, will NOT protect you from sexually transmitted infections.
Barrier contraception like male- or female condoms are the ONLY form of contraceptive protection against sexually transmitted infections as well as pregnancy. You and your partner may choose to use both a long-term option and a barrier method.
The Family Planning Association has lots of comprehensive information on their website about different forms of contraception and the benefits and disadvantages of each. They even have a quiz geared towards both men and women to help them find the best method of contraception for them.
Also, remember that The Advice Place is part of NHS Lothian’s C:Card scheme, which means that you can always get free condoms, dams, lube and other safer sex products here for free!
If you have had unprotected sex or you think that your method of contraception has not worked then there are a few different options of emergency contraception that you could consider.
Levonelle, or the ‘morning after pill,’ can prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex. The pill is only effective up to this time limit and is more likely to be successful the sooner it is taken. Levonelle is available free from GP surgeries, sexual health clinics and some pharmacies. You can also buy it over the counter in most pharmacies like Lloyds or Boots. It normally costs around £25.
EllaOne is another form of emergency contraceptive. This one can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex. It can be prescribed by a GP or a trained pharmacist (if you are registered with a GP in Scotland) and is free if prescribed. It is normally given only if you have missed the 72 hour window for Levonelle. A lot of pharmacists are not trained to prescribe this but you can buy it from a pharmacy. It normally costs £35.
Both Levonelle and EllaOne are recommended only for use in an emergency and should not be used as a regular method of contraception. Both these pills contain a huge amount of hormones and may come with side effects such as nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. Your period may also come earlier or later as a result, but on the whole the side effects of taking these pills are not serious. Levonelle and EllaOne do NOT cause abortions, but instead work to delay ovulation to prevent the egg from being fertilised.
You can read more about Levonelle and EllaOne on the NHS website.
You could also opt to have an IUD fitted to protect against pregnancy. An IUD is a small copper and plastic device that is fitted into your uterus by a doctor. The procedure takes between 15-20 minutes and you may experience period-type pain and light bleeding as a side effect. This procedure is effective in preventing pregnancy up to five days after having unprotected sex, or up to five days after the earliest time you could have ovulated. It’s more effective at preventing pregnancy than the emergency pill, and it does not interact with any other medication. The IUD can stay in to act as your main method of contraception. Read more about IUDs on the Family Planning Association Website.
For more information on where to get emergency contraception and how to access services in the Lothians, see the Lothian Sexual Health Website.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
If you are sexually active, it is important that you are tested regularly for STIs to protect both yourself and your partner. This is particularly important if you have had sex with a new partner or without using a barrier method like a male- or female condom.
However, it is important to remember that even if you use a barrier method you can still get an STI through other forms of sexual contact, such as oral sex. Furthermore, many common STIs such as chlamydia do not manifest any symptoms, so you may be infected and not be aware of it! Not to worry though – most STIs are curable through a round of antibiotics. Sexual Health Scotland has information about safer sex alternatives and ways to reduce the chance of catching an STI.
You can get an STI screening from your GP or from a specialised sexual health clinic. The main clinic in Edinburgh is the Chalmers Sexual Health Centre. You can make an appointment by phoning 0131 536 1070, though they only offer appointments up to two days in advance and at peak times they only offer appointments to patients who have symptoms. If you wish to see a doctor sooner you could make use of their walk-in clinic. This clinic is open from 8.30am - 10am, Monday to Friday. When you arrive at the clinic, providing there is space, you are given an appointment time for that day. The walk-in clinic does get very busy so you should go as early as possible.
The Lothian Sexual Health Service provides services for all people regardless of sexual orientation. They have a dedicated walk-in clinic for men who have sex with men from 1:30pm to 7pm on Wednesdays . Read more about sexual health services specifically for the LGBT+ community on the Lothian Sexual Health website.
You can order an HIV postal testing kit through the Terrence Higgins Trust here. If you would rather have someone with you when you receive the results, then it may be better to go to a GP or clinic to take the test.
Sexual Health Scotland has information about about what will happen during an STI test to give you an understanding of what kind of questions they will ask and how they administer the test before you go. They also have information about common STIs, symptoms and treatments.
You can also call the National Sexual Health Helpline, which offers advice and information on STIs and sexual health, as well as referrals to local support groups. The helpline operates from Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm, and their hotline number is 0300 123 7123.
Part of being sexually healthy is feeling secure and confident in sexual relationships, whether these relationships are short term or long term.
For more advice on how sex can impact on your wellbeing, Sexual Health Scotland has lots of good information and advice on staying confident and in control. Read their guide if you are wondering if you are ready for sex for the first time, for the first time with a new partner, or on how to talk openly and honestly about sex. Talking about sex is an important skill and crucial for ensuring that you are happy and in agreement regarding issues of contraception, consent and safety.
For more advice and information, you can visit:
The Mix – The Mix provides “essential support for under 25s” and has lots of advice and information on sex and relationships, aimed at both couples and single people.
Sexpression – Sexpression is a project based at the University of Edinburgh dedicated to providing judgement-free education regarding safer sex, sexuality and relationships to students and young people around Edinburgh. Their website contains sex-positive and body-positive posts and also has a portal that allows users to submit questions that will be answered by staff.
Scarleteen – Scarleteen is an education and support organisation regarding sex and relationships, primarily directed towards young people. Their website has guides on a wide range of topics from sexual health to relationship advice, and also has many user-generated discussions as well..
LGBT+ Sexual Health
All services run through Lothian Sexual Health are LGBTQ+ friendly, and clients are welcome to make an appointment at the Chalmers centre or any of the local clinics. The Chalmers Centre also runs a Gay Men's Clinic (GMC) every Wednesday. Appointment bookings are made between 4 and 7:30pm, and they also operate a walk-in clinic from 5 to 6pm. You can make an appointment by calling 0131 536 1070.
The NHS also has information related to LGBT sexual health and wellbeing.
For services in Scotland, the LGBT Health and Wellbeing is a service dedicated to promoting the health and wellbeing of LGBT people in Scotland.
For more advice and information, you can visit:
ROAM Outreach – A sexual health service for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in Edinburgh and the Lothian area.
GMFA – Although they are a London-based charity, their website provides plenty of useful information regarding sex and sexual health for gay and bisexual men.
NHS Sexual Health for Lesbian and Bisexual Women – The NHS provides an overview of sexual health tips for lesbian and bisexual women.
The Advice Place Guide to Rights and Services for Trans Students – Our guide to transitioning whilst at university, changing your name, applying for gender recognition certificates, gender-neutral facilities on campus, and more.
NHS Transgender Health – Information on transgender health and how to find your nearest NHS gender identity clinic.
NHS "Living My Life" – An NHS booklet that provides an empowering and comprehensive overview on trans* specific issues such as health, transition options, terminology, etc.
Our C:card service can provide quantities of safer sex products for sex workers.
You can also get support from SCOT-PEP, a registered charity that is dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights, health, and dignity of sex workers in Scotland.
Last edited - 13 June 2017