I’ve always been quite confident about my sexual health. From the age of 16, I bought condoms and went on Microgynon, the contraceptive pill. Then, when I was 19, I decided to switch to Nexplanon, the contraceptive implant which I’ve been on for the last six years.
I used to go to my GP for all my sexual health needs, but recently, the local authority has built a health center nearby where I got my first implant put in. Getting an appointment was quite tricky because you either had to ring up on the day to get an appointment, which was problematic if you had work or school, or drop-in to the center, which again was problematic if you had work or school. It seemed like accessing these services wasn’t easy, despite how important it is for young people to see health care professionals.
So when it was time for me to have a sexual health screening, which I do every year, regardless of my sexual activity, I thought ‘there’s got to be an easier way to do this‘. So I Googled: where can I have a sexual health screening near me?. Not only does Google pick up on centers nearby depending on your location, but it also showed me that the NHS website has a page dedicated to finding sexual health centers near you. I put in my postcode and looked through the list of options.
Most were just the local GP surgeries, but to my surprise, there was a health center connected to the local hospital that did a drop in session, one afternoon a week, from 5:30pm till 7:30pm. Brilliant! If anyone was looking to go somewhere local to my town, after work or school, this was the place! And I hadn’t even known it existed! So I went down there, expecting to join the throng of people waiting to be seen, but instead, the place was empty. I got there early in fairness, and I was only there for twenty minutes, so people could have arrived after I’d left, but I was still surprised.
As I approached the desk, I didn’t even need to ask for anything. The nurse gave me a laminated list with statements for me to check off, to show her what I needed. I checked “I need a routine sexual health screening“, but noticed another statement below, “I have been sexually assaulted or raped.” My heart went out to the people who had to check that box, but at least they didn’t have to say it out loud. The nurse then handed me a swab for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, which I did in the privacy of a toilet cubicle, and handed it back. Then I went and had a very informal chat with a health care professional who asked me all sorts of questions.
“Do you need to do any physical checks?” I asked, wondering if I was going to have to drop my trousers.
“Nope,” she said with a smile. “Just emotional ones.”
She asked me if I was safe, at home and with my relationships and friendships. Luckily I am, but she still reassured me that everything was confidential. I thought back to the box someone would check if they had been assaulted or raped, thankful that free services like these exist on the NHS. So as I left, I wondered, do enough people know about these kinds of services. Like I said, I was only in the clinic for twenty minutes – you could do it on your lunch break!
So this is me telling you about the wonderful service that I had, entirely for free, without having to leave my town, with health care professionals who made me feel safe and comfortable. Ultimately, getting yourself checked for infections, diseases, and pregnancy is as important as taking antibiotics or paracetamol. It’s all about keeping yourself healthy and happy. It might be a difficult subject to talk about, but the sooner we start talking, the easier it’s going to become for young people to get checked. The more we educate, the healthier we will be!