A trip to the clinic
Think you've caught an STI? Just want a clean bill of health before starting a new sexual relationship? Maybe it's time to venture down to the GUM clinic.
Am I at risk?
It's a fact of life that if you're sexually active then you run the risk of contracting an STI (sexually transmitted infection). You can take steps to minimise the risk, of course, by using condoms every time, but even so there are no guarantees.
If you think you may have come into contact with an STI, the worst thing you can do is pretend it hasn't happened. Untreated STIs can lead to infertility, blindness and damage to the body's vital organs. In some cases, it can be fatal.
So it's vital that if you think you may have an STI you get yourself checked out, either by your GP or if you prefer, at a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. Visiting a clinic can be a daunting experience. What you have to remember is that although it's the first time you've ever had to visit somewhere like this, you're probably the millionth person through the door. No matter how embarrassing you think your symptoms are, nothing is going to surprise the professionals who work there.
What if someone finds out?
A big concern for many people is the issue of confidentiality.GUM Clinics are critically aware of this, and take every step to protect your privacy. All material relating to your visit is totally confidential and will never be made available to anybody who shouldn't see it. If you'd prefer, you don't even have to give your name.
Peter Shields, at the Mortimer Market GUM Clinic in London, says that the sexual health profession is changing the way it works, and is making huge efforts "to get across the message that sexual health is equally as important as any other part of your overall health."
Peter also says that the last few years has seen a massive increase in the number of STIs diagnosed in Britain, especially amongst the young. In response to this many GUM Clinics are setting aside time specifically for young people, with some operating separate clinics for men and women, gay and straight.
What to expect
And what about the tests they offer? After discussing your sexual history with a General Health Advisor, most GUM clinics will probably recommend a full Sexual Health Screening. For this, a small amount of blood will be taken and, depending on your history, swabs will be taken from your mouth, genitals and/ or anus.
These samples will be sent away for analysis and tested for all STIs including HIV. You may get the results for certain tests after a short wait. Alternatively, you will be asked to book a follow up appointment, at which you will be given the test results. In the event that your test results are positive you will need to be told what to do next. The GUM Clinic will have counselling staff on hand to answer your questions, detail treatments and provide support, in both the short term and, if necessary, the long term.
Learn to cope
If you are unlucky enough to be infected with something that can't be cleared up by antibiotics (like genital herpes or HIV), you will need support and advice on how to cope with it. GUM clinics have counselling available and there are specialist charities and agencies that can help too.
Don't jeopardise your health because you're embarrassed. A visit to the GUM clinic is the only way to guarantee peace of mind.
Written by Richard Parsons
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