Suspect You Might Have A Pre-Christmas STI? Don't Freak Out, Here's What To Do...
The Debrief: OBVIOUSLY we're going to implore you to practice safe sex at all times. But you know, just in case you didn't...
As a teenager I expected a full sex health check-up to go something like this: a cold, blue-lit room down a snaking back corridor of the hospital, near the morgue. My feet would be up on steel stirrups and an old spindly doctor man, equipped with forceps and a magnifying glass would peer down into my vagina, then bark that I was a big fat slut and was going to die of venereal disease.
This was a far cry from the happy clappy colourful rooms of Barts Sexual Health Centre, where the only look of disapproval I got was because I had brought my crayfish and avocado Pret salad into the waiting room and spilt it on the floor. Which is fair.
I had been sent there aged 18, by my mother, to whom, after my first uni term, I had gravely announced: ‘I think I’ve got HIV’ before crumpling into a tearful, dramatic heap on the floor.
My reasoning was that I had suffered a bout of the flu two weeks after having had unprotected sex with a grotty third year who had propositioned me with the timeless words, ‘I've got a toastie maker in my room. Fancy a cheese and hammering?’
According to many a website I had miserably trawled through during the illness, this flu was a sure symptom, and I spent sleepless nights in cold sweats planning my funeral – black attire was prohibited because I was young and thought that was original.
In less than an hour at Barts, my fears were quelled by a chirpy 20-something female doctor. I had self-administered a swab, which was easier than sticking in a tampon, and gave a quick blood sample. One week later, I got the all clear via text.
I felt a royal knob jockey. My standard way of dealing with overwhelming situations – burying my head in the sand like a petrified ostrich – had once again proved a terrible method.
Since then I have been regimented with routine check-ups and have heralded the NHS for their super-slick sex health team. Not to mention their free condoms, in every size and flavour, which have replenished my bedside table drawer for over seven years.
OK, so the best way to avoid STIs is obviously to always practise safe sex. We know this. We also know the best way to avoid getting fat is by not eating all the chocolate. But occasionally, that silky smooth Galaxy bar just screams out ‘Unwrap me!’ and before you know it, it’s inside you. The same is known to happen with penises.
But don’t dwell on your mistakes. Instead, cancel out irresponsible behaviour with ultra-responsible behaviour by getting to the clinic pronto.
There are thousands of websites out there that are blatantly inaccurate. If you’ve experienced itchiness, soreness, abnormal bleeding/lumps and bumps or change in discharge, don’t go surfing for sexual health answers without knowing where you will get the right answers. This WILL lead to paranoia.
Dr Claudia Estcourt, consultant in sexual health at Barts Health NHS Trust, says: ‘I recommend people looking for advice, stick to NHS Choices or British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) website to find their nearest clinic. Many people spend months worrying and persuading themselves they have rare conditions. They also often misinterpret their risk of more serious infections, like HIV, which is still pretty rare in women born in the UK.’
Don’t make excuses
It’s so easy to put off getting checked out. The popular excuse is that things are too hectic at work. While it may be difficult (or nigh on impossible) to track your GP down after office hours, that isn’t the case for GUM clinics – major hospitals tend to have evening and weekend sessions. Take advantage of these if you are really bad at lying and the likelihood of admitting to everyone at the office you have genital warts is high (cured simply by applying cream at home FYI.. eazy peazy).
If you decide on a weekday walk-in appointment, however, the insider top tip from Dr Claudia is to get there early, at the start of the day, for less of a wait. Most of the clinics have their own websites so check there first.
Trust the experts
The staff at the STI clinic know their stuff and have seen it all before. Trained to be super non-judgemental, you could probably whack out a show tune entitled My Friday Finger Fun with Foo-Foo my Fabulous Fanny, complete with jazz hands, and they would remain largely un-phased. They have seen and heard it all.
Be honest about your sexual history if you want accurate test results. Specifically: if you’ve done it up the bum you’re gonna need a separate bum swab. Equally, gonorrhoea and chlamydia can be caught through oral sex, as can herpes if your man administers cunnilingus with a cold sore – so you might need a back-of-mouth swab too.
Basically, don’t pretend to be Martha Stewart; you’re in a GUM clinic... no-one wants a cookie.
Stay positive about positive results
Firstly, most STIs can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Secondly, if like my friend Jessica, you’re refusing to get checked because you can’t face the moral obligation of getting in touch with ex-lovers should you find out you’ve got anything: FEAR NOT.
STI clinics now offer to do the deed for you if you can’t face it. You supply the contact details and they leave an anonymous message. This is GENIUS. I literally don’t know anyone who knows about this option, so thought I would spread the word.
Everytime you go for a check-up reward yourself with something you love. Then when you remember that Whistles party dress you can pat yourself on the back and say, ‘You deserve it (insert your own name) because YOU my dear are clean AS a Whistle *snort laughter*’ Or you can tap dance down the street in those new Louboutins singing to yourself ‘I don’t have chlamydia anymore!!’
Rewards get better or more specific the more serious or rare the infection. Gonhorroea, being quite a vintagey STI, calls for some sort of expensive vintage jewellery. For instance.
Don’t play genital volleyball
If you’re in a committed relationship, it’s worth trying to get your partner to get checked at a similar time to you. It’s no use being treated if you’re going to get it right back within a week and have to do another course of antibiotics. Nobody wants to be tee-total for that long – especially over Christmas.
Men should look out for similar symptoms: painful peeing/discharge and testicular pain. Remember, chlamydia is present in 70% of men without symptoms, too. The Silent C can render both men and women infertile so if you want those little toothless wonders grabbing onto your ankles in later years – get checked.
And a last little sound bite from a qualified unnamed professional:
‘Condom ON before Penis IN, Girls.’
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Picture: Eylul Aslan
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