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. This may be attributed to aspects of travel which 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. High proportions of sex workers, especially in resource poor countries of the tropics and sub-tropics are infected. 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.
Numerous STIs exist, which are due to a variety of bacteria (Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis), viruses (Genital Warts, Hepatitis B/C, Herpes, HIV, human papilloma virus (HPV) or parasites (Trichomonas).
Many STIs can be symptomless but may still cause serious long term disability including infertility, especially if treatment is delayed and can be passed to partners and to babies during pregnancy/childbirth. Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV, 3 main blood borne viruses (BBVs) are also spread sexually. Most STIs can be diagnosed quickly and easily treated.
Further information, and patient information leaflets on specific STIs are available from:
- Be aware that unprotected (without a condom) sex with a new/casual partner carries a risk of sexually transmitted infections and BBVs.
- Exercise caution with alcohol and recreational drugs: these can impair judgement and can increase the risk of unprotected sex.
- Condoms should be used for all forms of sexual activity with new/casual partners.
- Condoms provide good protection against most STIs, including HIV, Hepatitis B/C and HPV, but are not 100% guaranteed.
- Sex during travel is often unplanned, so take UK kite-marked condoms on your trip.
- Further information on safe sex and condom use, is available from The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV website.
- Travelling with the intention of having sex or visiting sex workers increases the risk of exposure to STIs.
- If you are travelling with the intention of having sex ensure you are vaccinated against Hepatitis B and carry and use kite-marked condoms.
- HPV vaccination is part of the routine national schedule for young adults and some other risk groups, but is not normally given as a travel vaccine (though it can be paid for privately).
- Ensure you have pre and post trip sexual health screens.
If you think you have been exposed to an STI or BBV during travel, attend a local sexual health clinic on return for a sexual health screen and to receive treatment.
Your local sexual health clinic can be located on the following websites:
Over the past five years the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has observed increasing numbers of travellers, both male and female, seeking consular assistance following sexual assault and rape. Sexual assault and rape are known to be underreported; as such the FCO figures may not reflect the true extent of the problem.
All travellers should be aware of the risk of sexual assault and rape; precautionary behaviour may help reduce the risk.
- Please see the Sexual Assault and Rape section of our Personal Safety page for detailed risk managment advice.