If you’re too scared to book up for an STI test, we can safely assume it’s down to one of three reasons:
- You’re scared of the result
- You’re scared it’ll hurt
- You’re scared of telling someone about your sex life
All of the above are perfectly reasonable explanations to worry over. What isn’t reasonable is letting any one of these fears get so ingrained that you put your health at risk. To me, it’s the same principle as going to the dentist regularly. I’d rather go through the mild discomfort of a six-monthly check up and keep my teeth ship shape, than wait until it’s too late and have to glue in dentures on a daily basis by the time I hit 40 years old. It’s a no brainer. Your sexual health – and any other health checks for that matter – should be monitored regularly.
Let’s quash some of the fear shall we?
Why should I get an STI check at all?
It struck me that at 23, I’d lived some of my sexually active times in relationships, and the majority of them not in a relationship. I’d been through university, I’d dated men as far away as the West Country (relationships that came to dubious conclusions) and had some drunken encounters. To put it bluntly, I take as many as precautions as I can to make sure I don’t come away from any of these things pregnant or diseased. But you can never be 100% sure of a previous partner’s honesty, or that something didn’t go amiss in the throngs of passion.
Starting to tot up all those instances? Yeah. Bit scary isn’t it. Time to get that all important check up sorted and put your mind at rest. Particularly if you’re even slightly unsure of what your result could be.
Where the hell do I book in?
Praise be for the NHS, they have a location service to help you find your nearest clinic. If you work the traditional nine to five, be aware that some of these listings will only have very specific key times that you can nip in for your STI test. Check the full listings that your postcode produces to find your nearest fully fledged centre, which will operate outside of office hours so you can get there without taking a day off. So far so good.
It gets a little more tiresome when it comes to booking your appointment, but stick with it – you’re almost sorted. New laws mean that the provision of sexual healthcare facilities now fall to Local Authorities, and some are better than others. It also means there isn’t a central system for the whole country to use to book their appointments. This means each region will probably have a separate website to advertise your locally available services, very few offering the chance to book an STI test online. No hiding behind a keyboard then.
You’ll probably have to do it by phone, though I visited my local centre and was pleasantly surprised. The nice lady at reception gave me a numbered list with different descriptions of what I might need to book. All I had to say out loud was numbers, unless I had a specific question. Hurrah! No need to yell “CHLAMYDIA” in front of strangers.
By the way, allow yourself an hour at the clinic to complete a general STI check up.
Who do I have to talk to?
Working up the guts to book an appointment was genuinely the hardest part for me, because I wasn’t sure how to do it or what the procedure really was. I was stabbing in the dark. Now that was over, all I had to do was explain why I was there. This was the chain of communication that took place during my STI test:
- Give the receptionist my name
- Take a seat in the waiting area, armed with a book so that I didn’t have to catch anyone’s eye, and so I could ignore the irritating wailing toddler in the corner. I generally find children repulsive, and clinic waiting rooms are a key play-up time for them
- Talk to a doctor about why I was there. Obviously you can request a male/female doctor according to preference
- Take a seat in a second waiting room, where I spoke to no one and continued to ignore screamy toddlers by involving myself in my book once again
- A quick conversation with the nurses conducting my blood and HIV test
What do I say?
The only big conversation you’ll have is with a doctor at the beginning. During my consultation, we covered:
- Why I’m there
- Whether I needed a smear test (I was not yet 25 and had no suspicious symptoms, so it wasn’t needed, but would take place straight after your consultation if that’s what’s on the menu for you)
- The date of my last period
- Contraceptive choices
- Whether I was happy with my current contraception
- When I’d last had sex
- Whether it was safe sex
- Whether I was with a long term partner
- Why I’d come to see them
- Directions for a self-administered swab test, which takes two minutes in the loo at the centre, and is just dropped into a box (or from home if you prefer)
- How and when I receive my STI test results
The doctor was not scary. Whatever you have to say to her, she’ll have heard worse, and frankly any doctor would rather see someone proactively taking care of themselves. They’ll presume the worst and praise you for anything you haven’t done wrong. You might even leave that room feeling unnecessarily proud of yourself. If it makes you feel more comfortable, take notes with you so you don’t forget what you want to talk about.
Is it going to hurt?
The swab – This does not hurt. The doctor will explain exactly how to do this, but all it really is is popping a long handled cotton bud into your stuff for two seconds and putting that into a bottle. If you’ve dealt with a penis, finger or fist (trying very hard to cater for you all here. Haven’t mentioned foodstuffs yet…) up there, you can deal with this.
HIV test – This looks like a little ink stamp that they’ll clamp onto the end of your finger. I’d equate the pain threshold to clamping a crocodile hair clip onto the end of your finger for half a second. Nothing to worry about.
Blood test – Nothing special about this one, although definitely the least pleasant bit of the lot. On the plus side, you only have this hurdle to get through before you get to go home and live your life. No one enjoys needles in their arm, and I have the particularly joyous tendency to pass clean out when a nurse takes blood from me. If you’re the same, just mention your little habit and ask if you can lay down during this bit.
To psyche myself up, I take note of the fact that a) nothing is more painful than childbirth, and mothers seem happy enough despite having lived this, plus b) it’s no different to getting an ear pierced. With seven piercings and a tattoo on my person – which I CHOSE to get – being scared of a blood test makes me, to all intents and purposes, a complete fucking pansy.
Man up. Have a chat with the nurse. Get it over with.
How do I get my results?
A gloriously anonymous process that takes place by text message, with the exception of the HIV test. You’ll receive this before your blood test, and results are instant.
My tests came through with a simple “your results are negative”. If your text says “we need to chat”, pop back to the clinic and don’t panic – it could simply be that the results mucked up and they need to do a tiny part again. It doesn’t mean you definitely have an STI.
How often do I need to do this?
If you’re sexually active with different partners, you should book in yearly for an STI test. If you have one long term partner, you wont need any further check ups unless you change partners or a symptom occurs.
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