The amount of people visiting sexual health clinics has decreased by 24% in the last decade, according to new figures released by NHS Digital.

Since 2015, the number of people using sexual health services has continued to drop by 7%, from 2.03 million to 1.89 million. While women are far more likely to visit services than men, with 7% of females aged 13-54 visiting a clinic on a basis of at least once during 2016-17 compared to just 1% of males of the same age.

Many young people are under the assumption that they will know if they have a sexually transmitted infection, not to mention the fact that they will be able to see the symptoms or notice the signs. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case. A great deal of people also assume that in order to get an STI you must have had multiple sexual partners, this again is not necessarily the case at all.

The reality is, it’s very common for STIs not to have any obvious signs, and anyone who’s had unprotected sex with a new partner should get themselves checked out, as the saying goes, it really does only take one time.

If you suspect that you have an STI, then you will need to go and get tested to be sure either way, for many people, an ‘ignorance is bliss outlook’ is commonplace in regards to sexual health but this can only take you so far. Your best bet is to visit a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, since they specialise in sexual health and offer tests and treatments for many STIs.

In this guide, we discuss the services that sexual health clinics offer and what happens when you visit an STI clinic.

Step one: Visiting a clinic

We live in an era of body-positivity and sex-positivity, with this in mind, there still seems to be a stigma around sexually transmitted infection. There is absolutely no need to feel any shame or embarrassment in regards to visiting an STI clinic, it shows that you are taking responsibility for your sexual health, and this is something to feel good about. Moreover, what makes the lack of numbers of people attending STI testing appointments especially surprising is that STI’s are so ubiquitous. Consider the fact that 50 percent of sexually active people will have at least one STI by age 25; HPV is the most common.

The stress of any experience can certainly be alleviated if you know what to expect. With this in mind, in the following section, we will outline to you what to expect from this experience.

You can make an appointment to go to an STI clinic, or in other facilities they may offer the option of a drop-in clinic. You may feel embarrassed, but there’s really no need- the staff at these clinics are trained to test for all kinds of infections. It’s their job and they certainly won’t judge you. They will do their best to explain everything to you and make you feel at ease.

You can go to a sexual health clinic whether you’re male or female, whatever your age, regardless of whether or not you have STI symptoms.

If they suspect you or another young person is at risk of harm, they may need to tell other healthcare services, but they will talk to you before they do this.

Step two: giving some information

The next thing you’ll need to do is pass over some personal information to the clinic. You will be asked for your name and contact details, amongst a few other personal questions, so be prepared to disclose information regarding your sexual history as well as your general health. Some of these common questions include:

  • when you last had sex
  • whether you’ve had unprotected sex
  • whether you have any symptoms
  • why you think you might have an infection

You can request to see a female or male doctor or nurse if you would rather, in this case, you may have to wait longer than usual for one to become available.

Step 3: STI testing

The doctor or nurse will tell you what tests they think you require. They should explain what is going to happen and why they are suggesting these testing options for you. If you’re not sure about anything, ask them to elaborate.

The tests may involve:

  • a urine sample
  • a blood sample
  • swabs from the urethra (the tube urine comes out of)
  • an examination of your genitals
  • if you’re female, swabs from the vagina
  • testing for chlamydia or gonorrhoea usually a urine sample or a self-taken swab for a woman.
  • Testing for HIV and syphilis requires a blood sample

Tests for herpes aren’t often done unless you have sores on your genitals or anus. In this case, a swab will be taken from a sore.

Step 4: receiving your test results

With some testing, you can get the results and treatment on the same day. For others, you might have to wait for a week or two. If this is the case, the clinic will query how you would prefer to receive your results.

If you test positive for an STI, you will be required to go back to the clinic to talk about your results and the treatment you require.

Many STIs can be treated with antibiotics. Some infections, such as HIV, have no cure, but there are plenty of treatments available. The clinic can offer guidance for you on these matters and put you in touch with a counsellor.

If possible, you should inform your sexual partner and any ex-partners so they are able to get tested and treated as well.

If you don’t want to do this, the clinic will frequently offer to do it for you, it’s called partner notification and the clinic won’t reveal who you are.

Protection and prevention to prevent STIs

The best way to protect yourself from getting or passing on an infection is to use a condom every time you have intercourse. Most clinics can give you some condoms so you can practice safe sex. Bear in mind that having had an STI once doesn’t make you immune to it, you can get the same infection multiple times.

In a perfect world, testing would not be a big deal. Ideally, it would be accessible and de-stigmatized, but thankfully, there are countless resources and people out there who understand the importance of testing. It’s perfectly natural to be nervous about medical tests, but STI testing is something worth dealing with. And thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to make getting to this conclusion much easier. So get out there and take control of your sexual health.

Duality Health Private Health and STD Clinic

At Duality Health we understand that it’s important to stay safe and know you have people to turn to if you’re worried about your health. At Duality Health, we are on-hand to offer assistance, whether you’re in need of a quick chlamydia test or a rapid smear test. With only a 20 minute wait, we can provide you with a quick result and, if it’s positive, provide immediate advice. Our private STI testing yields an accuracy rate of 99% and our professional team can initiate a treatment plan to suit your needs. Get in touch with us today to find out more.