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Sexual health

Sexual Health (SH) encompasses; genito-urinary medicine, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, contraception,  psychosexual medicine, abortion services, teenage pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health. It is delivered in various settings, providing care across specialised services as well as through primary and third sector organisations. 

There are a number of other RCN resources available to support nurses working in this area. 

The RCN's Public Health Forum and the Women’s Health Forum lead the RCN’s work in these areas. Further information can also be found on the RCN’s Fertility Nursing Forum, Midwifery Forum and Nursing in Justice and Forensic Healthcare pages.

Sexual and reproductive health is an fundamental public health issue and clearly recognised as such by the WHO. Sexual and reproductive health provision includes the provision of contraceptive methods such as implants, intrauterine devices and hormonal contraception and the diagnosis, treatment, management of sexually transmitted infection, HIV care and the public health role of partner notification and promotion of safer sex and including support for individuals in relation to sexuality and healthy sexual relationships. The role of nurses, midwives and health practitioners across sexual and reproductive health are essential to the delivery of high quality care, to support males, females, trans and intersex people who may be vulnerable through unprotected or condom less sex including: sex workers; homeless people; as well as victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and grooming. 

Alongside providing advice and support to members, the RCN works closely with charities and professional organisations such as the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), Terence Higgins Trust, NICE, British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) and the UK governments to ensure that nurses play a key part in the development of services and standards across the UK.

Nurses, midwives and health practitioners may be employed by the NHS, independent sector, universities or charities in a variety of roles such as sexual and reproductive health technicians, staff nurses, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, community nurses, lectures and consultant nurses.

Current issues and concerns

Cases of STi’s diagnosed in 2019

In September 2020 Public Health England released the number of diagnosed sexually transmitted infections in 2019.

Key statistics

  • In 2019 there were approximately 468,342 diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections made in England a 5% increase since 2018.
  • There were 7,982 diagnoses of syphilis reported in 2019, a 10% increase since 2018.
  • There were 70,936 diagnoses of gonorrhoea reported in2019, a 26% increase relative to the year prior.
  • There were 149 diagnoses of  first episode genital warts in 15 to 17 year old girls in 2019 a 23% decrease to 2018 and  90 diagnoses of first episode genital warts in boys of the same age, an 11% decrease since 2018. This is mainly due to the National HPV Vaccination Programme in schools.

To support sexual health services and work to reduce STI transmission PHE is undertaking work to raise awareness of STI’s in the 16 to 24 year old age group, providing data to local authorities on local service activity and is developing a syphilis action plan. See: New data reveals 420,000 cases of STIs diagnosed in 2017.

This identifies further concerns as highlighted in the recent RCN report: Sexual and Reproductive Health. RCN report on the impact of funding and service changes in England (2018). This report includes a number of recommendations for the future of sexual and reproductive health that focus on workforce, education and training, a national website resource for nurses, new ways of working and online service provision and public health spending.

RCN resources

The RCN has been working with members on a series of case studies which help showcase the variety of ways nurses are currently working to improve public health. See: Improving access to sexual health 

Further resources 
Sexual Health Education Directory 350x170

Sexual health education directory

This resource highlights the education, training and qualification requirements for registered nurses, midwives, health advisers and nursing associates as well as unregistered health care support staff working in sexual health.

Education, training and career progression in nursing and midwifery

Nurses and midwives who wish to work in sexual and reproductive health need further education and training to do so. This publication offers detail on the routes available to train in these areas and signposts nurses and midwives to valuable information.

Sexual health charities

Across the UK there are a number of charities that provide information, advice and support for patients and healthcare professionals:
  • British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). Information and advice on termination of pregnancy and contraception alongside clinical services
  • Brook. Sexual health information, advice and clinics for young people
  • Fpa. (Formerly Family Planning Association) Information and advice on sexual health and contraception
  • Marie Stopes International. Information and advice on termination of pregnancy and contraception alongside clinical services
  • Terence Higgins Trust. National charity for sexual health and HIV.  Provides advice, information and a number of face to face services
  • Aidsmap. Information and resources on HIV within the UK and across the world.

Page last updated - 13/06/2024