We are three months shy of the holiday season and end of year. The holidays usually mean dinner parties, scrumptious food, one too many bottles of bubbly, Christmas carols and gifts. However, out of the abundant gifts we are about to receive, make sure an STD or STI is not one of them. In the run-up to the festivity of the holidays, we deserve complete awareness of our sexual health status and the precautions to take before ‘getting merry and jolly’.
Benefits of visiting a sexual health clinic
There is a lingering stigma about paying a visit to the nearest sexual health clinic, which is also widely known as genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. As much as we hate to admit, visits to these clinics are often accompanied with glaring and judgmental stares from others because stepping foot in sexual health clinics is often associated with having an STD and leading a reckless life. However, that is not always the case. While it is true that sexual health clinics provide treatments for those infected with STIs or STDs, paying a visit to the clinics also means:
- Peace of mind: getting tested regularly to keep track of your sexual health status every six months or at least once a year is the only way to be certain that you are clear from HIV or an STD. People might think they are perfectly fine because they feel healthy, but sometimes several STDs such as chlamydia are often ‘silent’ because people who have it often show no symptoms.
- In-depth sexual health knowledge: because the knowledge that was taught in school could be limited. When it comes to sexual health, ‘tell all’ is always better than ‘hush hush’.
- Your partner’s wellbeing: if the worst case scenario occurs and you are indeed infected with an STD, being aware of it signifies that you can think of how to better protect your partner from also becoming infected (by abstaining from sex or using a condom). Nothing is more undesirable than having your partner telling a friend: “On Christmas eve, my great love gave me the gift that keeps on giving–an STD.”
- Preventing unwanted health problems: untreated STIs and STDs can cause sinister health problems such as infertility and particular types of cancers (caused by HPV).
When to and who should visit sexual health clinics
According to the UK National Health Services, everyone can go to the clinic regardless of age, gender and whether or not they have STD symptoms. Children under 16 are given the same rights to confidentiality as adults.
Below are six things to keep in mind prior to visiting a sexual health clinic:
Some clinics don’t require appointments
Depending on where you live and which clinic, some sexual health or GUM clinics do not require appointments. This means you can just walk or drop in unnoticed. Some clinics even apply a walk in/drop in only policy. However, this is not a ‘one case fits all’ because at some clinics, you do have to make an appointment or call the booking line for urgent situations before visiting.
To feel a little embarrassed upon visiting is normal
This usually happens during your first visit. Sometimes you cannot help but notice the wandering eyes of other patients who might be wondering what you are here for, but here is some good news: they might think you are also thinking the same exact thing about them. Remember that the ultimate goal is not to avoid judgements but to be cognizant of your status and to get the infections detected as early as possible to determine the correct medication and treatment.
Every information and detail is kept confidential
Confidentiality is probably one of the most valuable features of a sexual health clinic. Upon visiting, you will be asked for your name and other details such as date of birth, address and contact details. While it is fine to give as little or as much information as you wish and even give a fake name in some clinics, bear in mind that certain tests and examinations take days to retrieve the results so be sure to give real contact details so the clinic can reach you to let you know of the results or of an infection that needs to be treated soon.
Although generally every information is kept confidential, there are some cases in which the clinic might decide relay some conditions to another professional:
- The person is experiencing sexual, emotional or physical abuse
- The person is legally underage and had sex
- The person’s life is in jeopardy
- Another person’s life is in jeopardy
Prepare yourself to answer questions about your sexual history
This part can be the elephant in the room. While it may be difficult to muster up the courage to take yourself to a sexual health clinic, the real challenge usually lies in answering several questions about medical and sexual history. You might feel judged, uncomfortable or embarrassed, but there is no need to be, because medical personnel in sexual health clinics are not judgmental. They are trained and very used to handling sexual diseases and infections. Some places can even arrange for you to be taken care of by someone of a preferred gender. To prepare yourself, here are some of the commonly asked questions:
- When you last engaged in sexual activities
- If you have had unprotected sex
- If you show any symptoms
- If you think you are infected and why
- What your concerns are
- The number of sexual partners and the genders
- The type of sex you have had (anal, vaginal or oral)
- If you have had an STI/STD before
The tests might involve urine or blood samples
It is important to answer the questions about your medical and sexual history truthfully, because the doctor will determine the relevant STD testing or the correct treatment to give from there. The tests might require you to provide the following:
- A urine sample: try to refrain from going to the toilet one to two hours before the test). Examining urine is performed for identifying diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
- A blood sample: may include a finger prick or drawing blood from the vein. Blood tests are usually for syphilis and HIV
- Swabs from various parts of the body such as urethra and vagina
- Genital, skin and mouth examinations
How fast you can get your results
With some tests, results can show up immediately. You can also get treatments on the same day. However, for other tests, they may take one to two weeks to be certain. If you test positive for STIs, you may be asked to come back to the clinic to discuss the results and determine the correct treatment.