Words by Hadley Stewart | @Wordsbyhadley

Contributor Hadley Stewart, explains that how his own experiences at GUM clinics haven’t been scary at all.

Going to a sexual health clinic can be a daunting idea, especially if you’ve never been to one before. There’s still stigma associated with going to a clinic, which can leave you feeling a little embarrassed.

There are a number of different reasons to attend a sexual health clinic. Ultimately by attending, you’re thinking about your sexual health and in effect minimising the potential health risks to yourself and others.

How often should I go?

The number of times you should attend a sexual health clinic is not set in stone. For example, if you’re sexually active and having sex with men, it’s recommended that you go for an HIV test every 6 to 12 months. However, if you’ve had sex without a condom, you had sex with a condom and it split, or you had sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may have put yourself at risk of acquiring HIV and other STIs. In that case, it’s advisable that you go for a sexual health screen on a more frequent basis.

Do I need an appointment?

Most clinics will offer a drop-in service throughout the day, in addition to offering booked slots. In terms of booking slots, clinics usually offer either a telephone or online booking system. Have a browse on the NHS Choices website for the contact details of your local sexual health services.

What tests will I have?

Perhaps it’s the horror stories you’ve heard about what’s involved when you get tested for STIs that’s putting you off. On the whole, testing is quick and easy. Different tests are used to test for different STIs. A few drops of blood from the end of your finger may be used to test for HIV, whilst an anal swab is used to screen for infections such as gonorrhoea. And don’t worry, you can do your own anal swab. In terms of getting your results, the clinic will want you to leave your contact details with them – most likely they will send you a text message. You’ll know the results of your HIV finger-prick test within minutes.

What happens if a test is positive?

The sexual health clinic will support everyone who receives a positive test result. The course of treatment depends on which STIs you have tested positive for. For an infection like chlamydia, which is caused by a bacteria, you will be offered a course of antibiotics. If you receive a positive test result for HIV, you will have a blood test to confirm the result, and will be supported by a sexual health advisor, who will be able to discuss the next steps with you.

What can I do next time I have sex?

Clinics offer you free condoms and lube, which are always a handy twosome to have on hand. In addition, you may be offered a vaccine, in line with the current rates of STIs. For example, men who have sex with men are currently being offered the vaccine that protects against Hepatitis A, due to an increase in the number of cases amongst gay and bisexual men. Lastly, a plethora of pamphlets is available for some bedtime reading.