It must seem to my regular readers that I spend most of my time getting medical practitioners to look at my lady bits. I can categorically tell you that this is not the case, however, if it makes you feel better about getting your own private parts checked out, then so be it.
I’ve heard that HIV is on the rise again in young, gay men and although I myself am clearly not a young, gay man, I’m well aware that we are all at risk and that I’m not immune just because I’m a heterosexual female. I also know that it isn’t just HIV that we should be protecting ourselves from either: there are 27 different types of STI that are waiting to latch onto our genitals, so it really is worth spending the time using protection and getting checked out, however old you are and however many sexual partners you’ve had.
If you’re under 18 and reading this, then I can understand that STIs might still be a little bit taboo for your age range. When I was at school, anyone who took a trip to the clinic was there primarily to collect a ton of condoms to throw around in class and if you were caught coming out of one, it was immediately assumed that your knob had fallen off. If, however, you’re old and ugly enough to take responsibility for your dental hygiene and general health, then there’s no excuse for neglecting yourself from the waist down; you should be leading the younger generation by example.
It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t had a test since 2009. Shameful. Four years, and a few sexual partners later, I could have caught something and have passed it onto a bedtime buddy already. A quick debrief of my sexual encounters would tell you that it was highly unlikely that I’d have contracted anything from a list of bright, well brought up, good looking and charming university graduates (not) but it’s not as clear cut as having chocolate on your chin: sometimes it’s too dark or I was too drunk and just because you’re called Harry doesn’t mean you don’t have Herpes. So I took the plunge and got myself booked in last week.
My clinic is the sexual health hub of West London and had been a haunt for most of my health conscious friends and boyfriends growing up, but I hadn’t visited the place in years. And you know what? Not much had changed. The same hushed waiting room was still there: rows of chairs filled with people avoiding eye contact at all costs, an old radio playing the same tracks from 2006 and as I was visiting so close to the festive season, a comforting array of washed out tinsel was strewn decadently about the room. Something that had changed however, was my attitude to getting this done. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I felt proud of myself and of the people around me; I’d had a bikini wax and was ready to take on the swab. I did still want to be invisible however, so when I sneezed and a guy said “Bless you”. I thought, “Dude, we’re not waiting for a bus here. I’m trying my very best to be as discrete as possible so could you please just not”.
This was all quickly forgotten when I was told by the nurse that swabs were a DIY job these days. I could’ve jumped on her I was so relieved – and I’m really not that shy about my vagina – so hopefully this will encourage those of you who are a little anxious, to take the leap. If, by some chance, some clinics do ask you to drop your pants, please don’t panic; it really isn’t that bad and it will be over really, really quickly. And to those guys who think they have it worse when it comes to sexual health screenings: woman up. It’s a cotton bud, not a machine gun.
My brother and his mates used to visit the clinic together for moral support. Afterwards, they’d treat themselves to a Nando’s for being so brave. I don’t care what it takes to get yourself checked out; whether you want to have sex with your girlfriend without a condom or if you need to justify getting your Peri-Peri fix that week, make like Nike and just do it. Remember that those who are there to assist you have seen a lot worse (confirmed when my gyno made a cameo appearance treating genital warts on Embarrassing Bodies a while back) while those who are waiting to be seen are only there to look after themselves, just like you.
Yes, it’s embarrassing when you’re about to show your foof to a complete stranger or when you’re asked a long list of questions about your sex life but it really is so important to make sure you’re clean as more serious diseases are found in young people today. Oh, and a little FYI: never respond with “erm… I tried it once but stopped because it hurt” when asked if you’ve had anal sex during your health questionnaire; the nurse is trying to figure out if you’ve been exposed to potential risks, not whether you’re an experimental lover. Just a little heads up, this definitely didn’t happen to me…
I received my “all-clear” text just this morning and I can tell you that the relief of that message far outweighs the 60 seconds of embarrassment in that nurse’s office or the scratch of the needle from a blood test.
Drop your trousers and get it checked.
All of you.