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By Cameron Carr
On a personal note, going to a GP or clinic to have an STI test is really confronting. While it’s presumably different for everyone for me it was a mixture of anxiety and shame.
“Am I being judged?”
“Did I do the wrong thing?”
“What if I’m positive?”
These were all thoughts I had when going to my nearest GP. For me the conversation, subsequent testing and all that followed was fairly uneventful; the moment I started talking to my GP I felt much more relaxed and pragmatic about the situation.
A couple of useful services and tips I gathered were and will continue to be really helpful for my sexual health and related conversations. In my case the scariest factor was definitely the stigma around sexual health and the thought of discussing my sexual activity with practically a stranger. Being able to choose a GP of the same gender and similar age to me made me feel much more at ease. Another great tool is Let Them Know, an online page which sends an SMS anonymously to your previous sexual partners should you test positive. This allows you to inform potentially at-risk partners with hopefully less apprehension.
The best thing we can do in my opinion is to educate about and normalise sexual health. To that end I reached out to a few clinics and GPs and received answers to a few questions from the Sexual Health Quarters.
Are there any common misconceptions about sexual health among young people?
Many young people think STIs won’t affect them or people in their age group, when we know that the highest rates of STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea are found in those under thirty. Many people are also not aware that STIs can be passed on through unprotected oral sex. Another common myth is that being on contraception e.g. the Pill also provides protection against STIs.
What is the procedure like when talking to a medical professional about getting tested for STI’s?
STI testing is simple and confidential. SHQ clinicians regularly perform STI tests; and are very comfortable seeing clients for this reason. If you are sexually active we recommend you have an STI test once a year, or more frequently if you have a new partner/s or are experiencing any symptoms.
Your clinician may ask what type of sex you’ve had (vaginal, anal or oral), as well as if you have any unusual symptoms. Answer as honestly as you can, so you can get the correct tests. The test itself usually involves a urine sample, genital swab or a blood test, or a combination of these. People with vaginas can often take their own swab. For people with a penis who don’t have symptoms, a urine test is often all that is required. If a swab is needed, it is usually taken from the end of the penis (not inside). Your clinician will talk you through any tests beforehand and give you an opportunity to ask questions.
How are STI’s commonly treated?
Most STIs are easily treated with antibiotics if detected early on. If left untreated, they can have serious consequences. Many people with an STI don’t have any symptoms, so the only way to know for sure if you have one is to get tested at your GP or a health service like Sexual Health Quarters.
When someone tests positive for an STI what is the procedure afterwards?
Treatment will be prescribed if your test/s comes back positive. Confidential counselling services are also available at SHQ if you want to talk to someone about your test result.
Talking to a medical professional can be very daunting, are there alternative ways of seeking help/advice that could be less confronting?
SHQ offers a free and confidential Sexual Health Helpline for people to have a chat with a nurse about any sexual health questions or concerns – phone 9227 6178. You can also find lots of useful information about contraception and sexual health on our website – www.shq.org.au
Lastly, is there anything you think that young people should know about their sexual health?
Your sexual health is really important! Look after it by always using condoms and dams to protect yourself and your partner/s, use effective contraception if needed, and stay up to date with regular health checks such as cervical screenings and STI tests.
Overall my main takeaway is that the first time was by far the scariest. I strongly encourage anyone to chat to a GP or clinician over the phone or even just email about your potential risk. There are so many great and often free or subsidised services available, and the people working in these fields have seen it all I’m sure. At the end of the day, the only way to break down stigma around sexual health is to inform ourselves and talk about it as openly and honestly as we can.
Thanks to Rebecca from the Sexual Health Quarters for her time.
Image courtesy of Pixabay