August 2nd, 2005
It’s day two of Sexual Health Week and today I thought I’d tell you a bit about getting tested for sexually transmitted infections.
One of the most common things I get asked about STIs is ‘what happens at the clap clinic?’ and frequently people’s fears about umbrellas being stuck down their willies or confidentiality issues stops them getting tested and puts them and others at risk.
Let’s clear up a few myths.
You can get tested for STIs at your local genito urinary (GU) clinic, or your GP can offer many tests too. Some sexual and reproductive clinics offer both contraception advice and STI testing. In all these places confidentiality is paramount. If you go to a GU clinic you don’t have to give your real name if you don’t want to. Most tests for STIs aren’t invasive, many can be done with a simple urine test – and you won’t have an umbrella-like device stuck down your knob.
What happens next?
Well first off find your nearest GU clinic. Some clinics have a drop in system where you walk in and wait to be seen, whilst others work from some kind of appointment system. Find out before you visit both the opening times and whether you need to pre-book an appointment. Alternatively you can go to your GP for advice.
What will they do to me?
When you see the doctor or nurse they’ll start off by taking a sexual history. This is a set of questions they ask everyone to find out more about you and what sort of tests you might need. Questions will include things like:
“How can we help you/Why have you come to the clinic?”
To which you could say something like you’ve noticed some symptoms, had unprotected sex, or heard from an ex or partner they thought they had an STI so you wanted to get checked out yourself.
“Have you noticed any symptoms?”
If you have then tell the doctor or nurse what these are – e.g. pain or stinging when you pee or funny looking or smelling discharge. If you’ve no symptoms but are still concerned then tell them this.
“Can you tell me who you’ve slept with?”
You can be honest with the doctor or nurse; they’re not there to judge you. Tell them your most recent partner and any other’s you’ve had. If you’re in a relationship but have also had sex with someone else you need to tell the doc this, but again remember they won’t judge you. They may ask if you’ve had any gay sexual experiences, sex with a prostitute or someone from another country, or sex with a drug user. Don’t be offended or worried by this – again they’ll keep your answers in confidence. If you can’t answer all the questions it’s fine to say ‘I don’t know’.
“Would you like an HIV test?”
Most clinics will ask you if you want to be tested for HIV or syphilis. If you feel it isn’t relevant to you say so, you may not need the test. They may ask you what you think you have, and they’ll also discuss with you what tests are available and what they’re for.
Will they do more than ask questions?
After taking your sexual history the next stage is a visual exam (where they’ll look at your sex organs) and a physical exam. This can include touching your penis and balls or vagina and labia, and taking a swab from your pee hole (urethra). Women may have a vaginal swab (a bit like having a smear test), and if you’ve had oral sex you may have a swab taken from your mouth. If you’ve had anal sex you could have a swab taken up your bum hole (anus).
If you find physical exams embarrassing or upsetting tell the doctor or nurse. They do exams all the time so will be quick and as gentle as possible. If you’ve a history of sexual abuse then tell the doctor or nurse before the exam, and if necessary ask for a friend to come into the exam with you.
After taking your history and examining you you’ll be asked to provide a urine (pee) sample, and if you’re worried about HIV or syphilis a blood test can also be taken.
What should I make a note of?
It may help if you prepare for your visit in advance and make a note of:
Your sexual history (who you’ve slept with)
Any symptoms you’ve noticed
Any questions you’d like to ask the doctor/nurse
Will they say what I’ve got straight away?
If you’ve very visible symptoms the doctor may say what they think is wrong with you and offer treatment straight away. However since it’s possible to have more than one STI at the same time, or in cases where there aren’t symptoms, then your swabs and samples will be sent away for testing. Your doctor will tell you when to call back to get your results.
I didn’t have an STI – what next?
If you don’t have an STI remember to continue to use condoms from now on to make sure you and your partners stay safe.
I’ve got something!
If you have an STI your doctor or nurse will advise you what happens next. They’ll prescribe medication that you’ll need to use the full course of to ensure it works properly. You may need to abstain from sex until treatment is complete, and you’ll be asked about letting partners know they could be infected. You can either let them know yourself, or some clinics can contact partners for you.
Are STIs a sign of cheating?
Often if a person is diagnosed with an STI they worry they’ve either been cheated on by a partner or their partner will think they’ve cheated on them. Since many STIs are symptomless you can have one for a while without noticing and pass it onto a new partner without cheating on them. If your partner has an STI don’t automatically assume they’ve cheated – sort out both of you getting tested and treated first. If you’ve cheated and need advice on breaking the news to your partner then your doctor can advise you how best to do this. Don’t keep it a secret – anyone you’ve slept with who could have an STI needs to be tested and treated.
If I ignore it will it go away?
Some STIs like HIV are very serious and can’t be cured but can be managed with medication. Others like chlamydia can be overcome with antibiotics. However if you leave an STI like chlamydia untreated it can cause infertility. Tests for STIs are a little embarrassing and uncomfortable, but never painful. If you get distressed counselling can be offered. It’s better to know your sexual health, get tested and treated and then continue to use condoms to stay safer.
And check back here tomorrow where I’ll be offering some tips for what to pack in your suitcase to enjoy a safer sexy summer holiday.Tweet