If you have recently experienced sexual violence, there may be a risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, and pregnancy (for women of childbearing age).
Any risk depends on the type of sexual violence (vaginal, oral, anal) and protection/contraception.
If you experienced sexual violence some time ago, there may be ongoing sexual health issues. This could be a result of injury to sensitive areas such as your genital area or mouth, or untreated infection which may be symptomless but can cause internal damage if left untreated.
Sexual violence may also lead to sexual difficulties which may affect your intimate relationship with your partner (if you have one).
Finding help and information
It is natural to feel scared or nervous about going to a doctor or clinic, But it is important for your own health, and your partner’s (if you have one), that you get a check-up at a health clinic so you can get advice about infections and treatment.
It may also be helpful to speak to a sexual health nurse/doctor about any other sexual issues/ difficulties which may arise from sexual violence. If you go to a family planning or sexual health clinic for testing or advice you do not need to tell them what happened unless you want to. You do not need to give them your real name and you do not need to agree to any tests. The services are free and confidential. You can also get these services from your GP but this will be recorded in your medical records.
Health workers in certain services, such as sexual health, routinely ask everyone about domestic and sexual abuse. They are trained to provide information and support to anyone who discloses abuse. There are specialist services for young people and also for older women (menopause clinics).
Risk of pregnancy
For women who think there is a risk of pregnancy:
- It is important to act as quickly as you can. You can get the emergency contraceptive pill free at every pharmacy. You can take it up to three days (72 hours) or in some cases up to 5 days (120 hours) after the assault. The earlier the better.
- If you cannot get to a pharmacy or take the emergency contraceptive pill in time, an IUD, often called a coil, can be fitted up to five days (120 hours) after the assault and must stay inside you until the time of your next period. You need to go to your nearest sexual health clinic to have one fitted. We can help you find the nearest service or you can visit Sexual Health Scotland.
- If you think there is a risk that you may be pregnant you can get a pregnancy test from a sexual health or GUM clinic, your GP or you can buy a test over the counter at a pharmacy.
If you are pregnant
If you are pregnant and do not wish to continue with the pregnancy, you can ask your GP or a doctor at a sexual health/ family planning clinic for a termination (abortion). This can legally take place up until the 24th week of the pregnancy. However, it is rare to have a termination after 18 weeks.
Early terminations are generally safer than later ones. In order to arrange for a termination, you need to see at least two doctors. The first will refer you to the second. If your own GP has chosen not to be involved in referrals for termination, they must refer you to another doctor or service which will.
If you are under 16, you have the right to a termination as long as the doctor who sees you decides you fully understand the procedure and its implications. Your parents do not have to be told.
If you are pregnant and do wish to continue the pregnancy or it is after 24 weeks there are various issues to consider, for example, whether you want to keep the baby or have it adopted. These are difficult decisions and you may wish to discuss them with one of our support workers or a trusted friend. If you are considering adoption, your local social work department can help with this.
Whatever your choice or circumstances, the we can give you information and discuss options.
Risk of sexually transmitted infections and HIV
STIs can be passed through the mouth, vagina or the anus. Some have symptoms and some do not. It is always worth getting checked as all STIs can be treated and many can be cured.
You do not have to have a test to get treated for some STIs. Some tests can be done by post. There are details of STIs at Sexual Health Scotland.
Risk of HIV
HIV is mostly spread through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex. Oral sex is low risk unless you have open sores or cuts in your mouth. If you have been exposed to HIV you can take medication called PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) which reduces the risk. You need to take it within 72 hours; the earlier it is taken, the better.
If you think you are at risk of HIV go to your nearest sexual health or GUM clinic or contact NHS 24 on 0845 24 24 24 for more information.
If there is any risk of you infecting your partner with an STI or HIV, it is important to practise ‘safer sex’ (sexual activity with fewer risks than penetrative sex) and to use condoms, lubricant or oral protection if you have penetrative sex.
It is OK to take time out from the sexual side of your relationship to work through feelings and memories about what happened. Your partner should respect your choice and support you.
For more information on sexual intimacy, see our page on relationships.
There are many different kinds of contraception. You may find it helpful to speak to a health worker to find out what will best suit you.
Contraception is free from the NHS through:
- Your GP
- Sexual health or family planning clinic
- Young people’s services
- Some genito-urininary medicine (GUM) clinics
You can buy condoms, diaphragms, caps and spermicide from pharmacies. Condoms are also available in garages and dispensers in pubs, clubs and so on.
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