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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Sexual Health Risks


Research shows that a large number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur as a result of unprotected sexual intercourse during international travel. An individual is three times more likely to acquire an STI when having sexual intercourse abroad. This may be attributed to aspects of travel which could encourage risk-taking behaviours such as freedom from usual social restraints, increased alcohol and/or drug use, increased opportunity, loneliness and peer pressure.

'Sex tourism' can be defined as travel undertaken for the purpose of procuring sex, most commonly involving commercial sex workers in economically disadvantaged countries. Historically, sex tourism has predominantly been attributed to male travellers; however, in recent years there has been an increased awareness of females travelling specifically for this purpose.

In some countries travellers may be openly propositioned by commercial sex workers. Additionally, in some cultures business travellers may be offered hospitality that includes sex workers as part of the business process. Unprepared travellers may be taken unawares and participate in risky behaviour that they would not consider at home.

Sexual Health Risk Reduction

All travellers should be offered pre-travel sexual health advice:

  • New sexual partnerships and unprotected sex abroad are not uncommon; this places travellers at increased risk of STIs.
  • Travellers should be aware of the risk of STIs and blood-borne viruses in intended destinations.
  • STIs may not show any symptoms so people may not be aware they are infectious.
  • STIs are most commonly transmitted through penetrative sexual intercourse; they can also be transmitted during oral sex and skin to skin contact of the genital and anal areas.
  • The nature of travel may lead to an increase in risk-taking behaviour such as alcohol/drug use; in turn this may increase a traveller's risk of having unprotected casual sex.
  • Travellers should prepare themselves with male or female condoms, even if they are travelling without the intention of having a sexual encounter.
  • Male and female condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can significantly decrease the risk of STIs.
  • Reliable condoms may be difficult to find in some countries, condoms carrying the British Kite Mark or the European CE mark have been tested to ensure quality.
  • Condom use can also reduce the risk of mouth to genital transmission.

Common Sexually Transmitted Infections

All of these infections can be symptomless:

  • HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Chlamydia
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum
  • Syphilis
  • Herpes
  • Genital warts. (Human papilloma virus)

For further information on specific STIs and blood-borne infections please refer to the Sexually Transmitted and Blood-borne Infection advice sheet.

For information on HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) please refer to the HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) Information for Travellers advice sheet.


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