#SexualHealthWeek: My visit to a sexual health clinic

More than 30 different bacteria, viruses and parasites are known to be transmitted through sexual contact and more than 1 million STIs are acquired every day (over 420,000 of those infections remain undiagnosed).

Whether you are simply dating someone new, engaged in casual encounters, or an active member of the swinging and sex party community, sexual health tests are a simple, easy and reassuring way to know that you are ok or need to seek further medical treatment. The good thing about going to the clinic directly rather than straight to your doctor is that the GUM clinic (Gento-Urinary Medicine) is equipped to deal with these problems there and then.

I went along to my local clinic to have a chat to them about the process and undergo a check myself. You don’t have to go in with any symptoms – and in fact many people go regularly as a matter of course if they are having multiple intimate relationships.

Entering the clinic was certainly nerve wracking. Would I meet someone I knew? Would they call out my name allowing someone to google me on the spot? Would they look at me as if I was a nympho?!

I am happy to say that none of those things happened.

With no firm appointment I wandered in and took my place in the queue. I immediately noticed that there is a glass screen shielding the person having the conversation with the receptionist from the rest of us. There was also chart music playing fairly loudly so that conversations could be had without being overheard.

There were around 15 people sitting in the waiting room. Some were on their own and some in couples – and all ages too. Young girls sat together aged about 17 or 18 and a couple that looked to be in their 60s were perfect examples. Nobody took much notice of each other, and most read a magazine or browsed their iPhones.

The receptionist asked me a few questions – name, date of birth and address etc. Then she handed me a form to fill out. Questions included sexuality and gender, sexual preferences and general health, when you last had sex, whether you’ve had unprotected sex, whether you have any symptoms. Nothing I felt I couldn’t answer – and in truth all the things that they might need to know if I was diagnosed with anything that needed treating.

I think I waited a total of about 20 minutes. I was lucky – I would imagine that it can take much longer than that if there are a lot of people. My number was called and I was taken into the consultation room by a friendly and incredibly open nurse. She asked me why I was there and if I had any concerns in particular. She explained that there were some questions that she had to ask that would be considered very personal. They were all revolving around my sexual activity and lifestyle;

When was the last time I had sex?

Did I have any symptoms? 

Were my partners known or unknown? Would I be able to contact them?

How many sexual partners had I had over the last few months?

What type of sex was I having? (e.g vaginal, oral, anal)

Was I using contraception? Having unprotected sex? Was it likely I could be pregnant?

The tests that then follow really depend on what you are in there for and what your sexual preferences are. Men will usually be asked to give a urine sample so they need to make sure their bladder is full!

Women are asked to take a self-swab from their vagina and potentially also the anus. I was given both of these and also instructions on how to do it. The swab looks a bit like a cotton bud and are wiped over the parts of the body that could be infected. They easily pick up samples of discharge and cells. These tests will check for chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Each year, there are estimated 357 million new infections with 1 of 4 STIs: chlamydia (131 million), gonorrhoea (78 million), syphilis (5.6 million) and trichomoniasis (143 million).

You’ll also be offered a blood test for HIV and syphilis. In some clinics rapid HIV tests can be taken, where you receive the results in less than one minute.

You won’t automatically be tested for all infections, so if you think you should be tested for a particular STI then you should discuss it with the nurse or doctor – without any fear of judgement. If they don’t know the specifics then they cannot specifically help you! I was reassured that the information I was giving her was confidential and non-judgmental designed to help her to know how best to advise and support patients.

In this particular case I was able to give my mobile telephone number and the clinic texted me a telephone number to call them on. This I did, and I was told that I was all clear other than the anal swab that had come back as inconclusive as there hadn’t been ‘enough’ on it. Hmmm – I think I was a little too nervous about that one!

The great thing is though that most STIs can be ‘treated easily’. Mind you – that doesn’t make the visit any less scary. But it is ok to take a friend or partner with you – so if it helps then that would be my advice.

FACTS ABOUT SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS

  • More than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide.
  • Each year, there are an estimated 357 million new infections with 1 of 4 STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.
  • More than 500 million people are estimated to have genital infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV).
  • More than 290 million women have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (1).
  • The majority of STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms that may not be recognized as an STI.
  • STIs such as HSV type 2 and syphilis can increase the risk of HIV acquisition.
  • Over 900 000 pregnant women were infected with syphilis resulting in approximately 350 000 adverse birth outcomes including stillbirth in 2012 (2).
  • In some cases, STIs can have serious reproductive health consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself (e.g., infertility or mother-to-child transmission)
  • Drug resistance, especially for gonorrhoea, is a major threat to reducing the impact of STIs worldwide.

SOURCE: WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sexually-transmitted-infections-(stis)