Wondering what to expect from your first trip to the GUM clinic? Read on...
Getting tested for STIs is a really important part of leading a healthy sex life. Although the idea of going to the GUM or family planning clinic can be daunting, having an idea of what to expect makes it a lot easier.
To help put your mind at rest, we've written a short guide so there's no surprises from your first visit.
What to do before you go
First off, you're going to need to find out where your nearest clinic is - the NHS website's handy clinic finder is a good place to start. Next, find out what time you can go. Some clinics will run different time-slots for different age groups and/or genders, so you want to make sure you plan ahead so you don’t end up at the wrong one.
You should also find out whether you'll need to make an appointment or whether the clinic offers a drop-in service. An appointment means you'll probably be done within an hour, but you may have to wait a week or two to get one. A drop-in clinic is a good solution if you'd rather be seen as soon as possible, but be aware that you can end up hanging around in the waiting room for a few hours before being seen.
Some clinics also operate a policy where you can give a false name or be assigned a number instead, so this may be worth looking into if you're wanting something more discreet.
When you arrive, you'll need to make yourself known at reception before heading to the waiting room. When it's time for you to be seen, you'll be called into a separate room by a healthcare professional, who will ask you some questions about your sexual history. These can include:
- what type of sex you had (e.g. vaginal, oral or anal)
- when you last had sex
- whether you've had unprotected sex
- whether you have any symptoms
- if/why you think you might have an infection.
Try not to get embarrassed - the staff are there to help you and won't judge you. It's also important to be honest and accurate with your answers so the professional can decipher what tests you need. Being open with someone you haven't met before can feel difficult, but remember they've heard it all a hundred times before!
What are the different types of test?
Following the consultation, the doctor or nurse will then tell you which tests you need. They should explain how and why these tests will be done, but do ask questions if you don't understand something.
The tests might involve:
- a urine sample
- a blood sample
- an examination of your genitals
- if you're male - swabs from the urethra (the tube urine comes out of)
- if you're female - swabs from the vagina.
If you need any blood tests done, these will be the same as any you've had before. A band will be tightly applied above you elbow to allow the doctor or nurse to see your veins more easily. After cleaning your arm, a small needle will be inserted and some blood taken. This will be taken and tested for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis.
Tests for women
Examinations will be slightly different, depending on your gender. Tests for women will often involve swabs being taken from the vagina, but many of these you can do yourself with a kit in the bathroom. In some cases, the doctor or nurse might want to examine you and take the swabs themselves.
If you do need to have swabs taken by someone else, it's usually done in a similar way to a smear test. It might be a little bit uncomfortable but shouldn't be painful.
You will be asked to lie down on an examination table with no clothes on below the waist, but there will be a paper sheet covering you. The doctor or nurse may feel around your groin area to check if you have any swollen lymph nodes (the small glands which get swollen when you have an infection). They may then examine you on the outside with a gloved had and cotton swab.
They may also want to do an internal examination, where they will need to insert a speculum - a small plastic instrument that holds the walls of the vagina apart. The insertion and opening of the speculum shouldn’t hurt, but do let the doctor or nurse know if you're in pain.
Swabs will then be taken from the top of the vagina for chlamydia and gonorrhea, and from the walls for yeast, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis. Finally, the doctor or nurse may examine you with an inserted lubricated finger and some pressure on your lower stomach. That is the end of the internal examination.
Tests for men
The examination for men can be quite varied. It may involve a blood test to look for HIV or hepatitis. It can range from simply having to provide a urine sample to having an examination of your penis and your testicles.
If the doctor or nurse wants to examine you, you will be asked to lower your underwear and lie on an examination table. They will then examine your groin and feel for lumps or pain in your testicles.
If you have been experiencing symptoms, you may need to have a swab done after this. This will involve the swab being placed around the exit of your urethra and slightly inside to test for gonorrhoea and chlamydia - it may be a bit uncomfortable, but it shouldn't hurt.
Getting your results
How you get your results will depend on the clinic you go to. Some clinics will give you the results of your swabs on the day, but for most you'll have to wait a week or two. If this is the case, the clinic will ask beforehand how you'd like to receive your results.
Sometimes clinics will have a policy of 'no news is good news', which means that if you don't hear from them after a set period of time, you can assume your tests are negative. Make sure you know what your clinics policy is before you leave to avoid any anxiety later.
If you test positive for an infection, don't panic. Most infections can be treated quickly with a short course of antibiotics, and those that can't can still be managed with other medication.
If one of your tests returns positive, you'll be asked to go back to the clinic to talk about your results and to receive suitable treatment. If there is anything unclear to you or something you don't understand, make sure you ask any questions to put your mind at rest.
It's then a good idea to inform relevant sexual partners of your diagnosis so they can get tested, including your current sexual partner and any ex-partners. Obviously, this can be a bit nerve-wracking. Let the clinic know if you don't want to do it, as they can usually do it for you – it's called partner notification and the clinic won't reveal who you are.
Did you find this guide useful? Have anything else to add to it? Join in the conversation below.
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