The dangers and risks of unprotected sex are very well known, but in the heat of the moment, it is hard to resist the temptation and keep all this in mind. Despite all the information out there and a lot of investment into sexual education, it still seems that two thirds of sexually active young people had unprotected sex at least once in their lives.
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This trend is influenced by the view common among young people that sexually transmitted infections aren’t as common today as they used to be a couple of years ago. However, despite this very popular belief, the official statistics seem to show otherwise. For example, Public Health England did recorded a drop in STI diagnoses between 2014 and 2015, but on a closer, this can actually be explained by the significant drop in testing rates, meaning that there is in fact more undiagnosed and by extension, untreated cases of STI, not less. More specifically, both syphilis and gonorrhoea were on the rise in this very same period – by 20% and 11% respectively.
Prevalence of unprotected sex in the modern world is without doubt the main contributing factor to this increase in STIs. On top of that, easy access to treatment and more liberal social conceptualisation of sex both contributed to more people practicing sex with casual partners while fewer are taking precautionary measures. The majority of educational material available today is focused on the idea of prevention, detailing the potential harmful consequences that might occur if protection isn’t used. But this approach leaves a very important question largely opened – what should one do after unprotected sex has already occurred?
It seems that despite all the knowledge about dangers of unprotected sex, this practice is actually on the rise. This is why we decided to compile this short guide and provide our readers with the most basic guideline about what should you do in the minutes, days and weeks following unprotected sex. We will cover things such as preventing the spread and development of STIs and UTIs while also paying attention to the question of unwanted pregnancy.
What to do right after you had unprotected sex?
To begin this guide, we will consider useful practices that should minimize the adverse consequences of unprotected sex which can occur immediately following the intercourse.
Go to the toilet
Urinary tract infections can occur in both sexes, although women are significantly more susceptible than men. According to statistical research, 8 in 10 cases of UTI in women develop within first 24 hours after unprotected sex. Visiting the toilet just after intercourse to urinate can be helpful in flushing out potential bacteria from the urethra, thus reducing the risk to some extent.
First two days after unprotected intercourse (24 to 48 hours after)
The first two days immediately after the encounter are crucial for the prevention of both STIs and unwanted pregnancy, so it is important to act fast. Here we will consider some of the things you might do.
Take emergency contraception if needed
If you are using contraceptive pills properly – without any breaks in the weeks before the intercourse and in the days following it – then the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy will remain minimal and most likely, emergency contraception will not be required. On the other hand, if you haven’t been using any form of hormonal contraception, unwanted pregnancy is something you should seriously consider. In this scenario, it is advisable to obtain the morning after pill.
The rate of success of emergency contraception is directly linked to how soon you took it after unprotected sex. Upostelle and Levonelle, both based on levonorgestrel as an active ingredient need to be taken within first 72 hours following unprotected intercourse, but are at their most effective when used within 12 hours after sex. There is general consensus that the success rate of levonorgestrel is around 84%.
Ella One, on the other hand, is a different type of emergency contraception that can be taken even as late as 120 hours following the intercourse while still being effective in 95% of cases.
Visit a doctor if you suspect you might have been exposed to STIs
Aside from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections are also a significant danger of unprotected sex. If your partner tells you about the possibility of infection by HIV or some other STI (either because your partner tested positive or was involved with someone who has), you should visit your local GUM or STI clinic as soon as possible. Those potentially exposed to HIV might be issued PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) which, when applied timely, can prevent the condition from developing.
However, it is advisable to get tested for STIs regularly if you are sexually active, so it goes without saying that an STI test is basically a must after unprotected sex.
Visit a doctor if you notice any symptoms’
In other places on our website you might have read how a majority of STIs, including gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can remain asymptomatic for long periods of time, which is why STI testing is absolutely crucial in preserving your sexual health. In those cases where symptoms do manifest, a couple of weeks may go by before you notice anything – this is especially true for bacterial infections, while bacterial vaginosis and fungal infections can produce symptoms much sooner. If you notice anything unusual, no matter how unimportant it might seem, it is best to visit a doctor immediately and also get tested for STIs.
The week after unprotected sex
Within 7 days after unprotected sex, you should already have taken emergency contraception (if needed) and ideally, visited a doctor and got tested for STIs. At this point, it will be too late for emergency contraceptives, but if you missed STI screening, the first week following the encounter is the time when you should definitely do it.
What to do following a missed period?
Missed period is often the first sign of pregnancy to be noted. In order to confirm or deny that, it is best to obtain a pregnancy test as soon as possible. While most modern home-testing pregnancy test kits can detect pregnancy relatively soon, many experts argue that it is best to wait until the first day following a missed period before doing the test – this will ensure the most accurate result. If you have irregular periods, the optimal time for pregnancy test is three weeks following unprotected sex.
Most of the modern pregnancy tests have very high degree of accuracy (around 99%), but some women still prefer to get tested by a practitioner so they can be completely confident in the accuracy of the result.
3-6 months following unprotected intercourse
Some STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can show up on regular STI tests as early as within just a few days following the infection. On the other hand, conditions such as syphilis or hepatitis B can take as much as 6 weeks to develop in the body, while for HIV, this period can reach even 3 months. This is why it is important to get tested in this period even if your initial test was negative.
Always stay protected!
Practicing safe sex should be number one priority for all those who are sexually active. Of course, the most reliable form of protection are barrier contraceptives like condoms which are exceptionally effective in limiting the risk of STIs, UTIs and unwanted pregnancy.
It is also important to try and not get carried by the moment – of course, sex should be spontaneous and enjoyable, but you should always keep in mind that protection should not be avoided. If you don’t have access to barrier contraceptives, then other non-penetrative sexual practices might be a better option as they involve much lower risk.