In 2015, the number of diagnosed STI cases was a whopping 434,456, with young people far more likely to be diagnosed than any other age group (and by young people, I’m hinting at students also making up a significant percentage of them). If left untreated, a gruesome host of symptoms and even infertility are the outcomes of many undiagnosed STIs. With all this in mind, it’s wise to get checked out if you’re sexually active – even if you don’t think you have anything. Bear in mind that in around 50-70% of Chlamydia cases, no symptoms are experienced. You can also catch STIs from unprotected oral sex.
So, after that scary fact session, what to do? Well worry not, as getting tested in Durham is far more hassle-free than you’d probably imagine.
First, you need to choose your clinic. I’d recommend the St Margaret’s Health Centre which is just off the top of North Road – a prime spot for all in Durham, especially viaduct-dwellers. The hospital also sport a GUM (Genito-urinary medicine) ward which I’m sure is equally as accommodating if you’d rather go there. St Margaret’s is open 12-4pm on a Tuesday, so this is when your appointment will actually be, although you can book at any time by phoning the Central Appointments Line on 0191 372 8700, Monday to Friday, between 9.00am and 5.00pm. Getting tested is completely free by the way – shout out to the good old NHS.
What should you expect when you’re there? Everyone I encountered was completely lovely and, crucially, non-judgemental. Obviously in order to assess your risk factor, the Nurse will need to ask some pretty personal questions about your sex life, but this is all done in a very calm and routine manner so no need to stress. The clinic will never share your information unless they think you may be at risk, or to help your GP treat you, so you don’t need to worry about other people or relatives finding out, if that’s a concern. They can also give you advice and information about contraception methods, should you require it.
You will need to either have a swab (which you can usually just do yourself so it’s all good) or a urine test, depending on where you go. To be tested for Gonorrhoea and HIV, you’ll also need to do a blood test, although this is optional, depending on what you and the Nurse perceive your risk to be.
I was in and out in 15 minutes and also received the always-welcome gift of free condoms. You can choose how to get your results – via a text or phone call, usually up to 2 weeks after your test.
While I would wholeheartedly prefer to spend my Tuesday afternoon in Flat White, rather than putting swabs in unmentionable places, the experience really wasn’t as horrific as I had imagined beforehand. Also I didn’t die of embarrassment – so neither will you. In fact I’d go back for the social aspect alone – I had a really nice chat with the Nurse about good skincare products (she recommended me this cream from Lush for my eczema) (what a lovely woman).
The important thing to remember is that while talking about sex and sexual health can be embarrassing, in order to break down the stigma that we sometimes feel surrounds STIs, we need to talk about them. If you had an infection anywhere else on your body, (EVEN IF YOU WEREN’T EXHIBITING SYMPTOMS MAY I ONCE AGAIN REMIND YOU), you wouldn’t let it go unchecked – and this should be the case with your sexual health too.
If you get your results and you don’t have an STI, you now have peace of mind, and if you do, then the clinic will get back to you to help you with treatment. Win-win.
All statistics according to research done by FPA, a sexual health charity, in 2015. Check them out here: http://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/sexually-transmitted-infections