Read this before your first sexual health check up
Feeling worried about your sexual health? Getting tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections is a pretty straightforward process, but it can feel scary the first time. Here's everything you need to know.
Dr Clare Morrison, GP and medical advisor at MedExpress, reveals what to expect on your first ever visit to a sexual health clinic.
What is a sexual health clinic?
A sexual health clinic is a service provided by the NHS, that provides testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
They also provide pregnancy testing, termination referrals, free condoms, emergency and general contraception, coils, and psychosexual counselling.
Many clinics offer drop-in services, but some facilities require an appointment.
When should I visit a clinic?
Visit a clinic if you have any reason to suspect you may have a sexually transmitted infection. This may be because a current or previous partner has been diagnosed, or because you have symptoms. In women, there may be yellow or green vaginal discharge, which may be smelly, bleeding after sex or between periods, lower abdominal pain, or painful sex. In men there may be a discharge from the penis.
In both women and men, symptoms could include itching, burning, tingling, blisters, sores, or spots around the genitals and/or anus. There may be a burning sensation on passing urine. In cases of pubic lice, the eggs may be seen as small white dots.
You should also visit if you have had unprotected sex with a new partner, to ensure nothing has been passed on.
Why should I visit?
It isn't always obvious that one has a STI, so if in doubt, it makes sense to check. It's important to get STIs treated as soon as possible.
Those who have completed their family may think they have less to worry about, as infertility won’t be an issue. However, STIs can still cause very unpleasant symptoms, and potentially lead to more generalised illness. There is also the risk of passing infection on to partners in the future, through vaginal, anal or oral sex.
What will I get tested for?
You will get tested for Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, HIV and Syphilis. Depending on symptoms, you may also get tested for thrush, Human Papilloma Virus (known as HPV or genital warts), Herpes, Trichomoniasis, hepatitis B and C, and Group B Strep (GBS).
How will I get tested?
The clinician will examine you, and take a genital swab (from the vagina or penis), blood test, and urine sample. If preferred, you may do the vaginal swab yourself.
Any tips to calm pre appointment nerves?
It's understandable to feel a little anxious, but there really isn't any need to worry. Be reassured that the clinician will be very familiar with these problems, and won't be embarrassed.
It's a good idea to be prepared beforehand, with all the information you may be asked. This will include when you last had sex, any unprotected sex, what symptoms you have, if any, and whether you think you have been exposed to a specific infection. It may help to write this down so you don't forget.
If you feel strongly about it, it is usually possible to see either a male or female clinician, but you may have to wait a little longer depending on availability.
Is there a different procedure for older patients?
Older patients are increasingly suffering from sexual health issues, due to the increase in older people having new relationships in later life, online dating, and changing cultural norms. The rate of STIs in the older age group has risen significantly in recent years.
The procedure at the sexual health clinic is much the same as for younger patients, but the clinician will be aware of the specific risks that older patients have. Unlike youngsters, they may have missed out on relevant sex education at school, and freedom from pregnancy worries may encourage unprotected sex.
In addition, older women may experience symptoms related to the menopause. Lack of oestrogen causes the vagina to become dry and atrophic, leading to soreness and painful intercourse.
How do I get my test results?
Most clinics will send the results via text message. It's important to ensure that the clinic has the correct mobile number for you. Alternatively results may be sent in an unmarked letter, or via a phone call, if you prefer.
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