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Take awkward out of sexual health check-up

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Many people find the idea of a sexual health check awkward or embarrassing. After all, it’s not every day someone you barely know asks you intimate details about your sex life or asks to examine your genitals.

But sexual health checks don’t have to be awkward (and many don’t even involve an examination).

Knowing what to expect - and remembering that nothing you say will shock or embarrass the medical staff - will help make your next sexual health check more comfortable.

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CASUAL ENCOUNTER: A sexual health check isn’t just for when you have symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI).CHOICES: Depending on your needs, you can go to a local community clinic, a men’s clinic or a Marie Stopes clinic for your check-up. Picture: David Ritchie

Do I need a sexual health check?

A health check isn’t just for when you have symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), like a discharge from the vagina or penis, genital blisters or warts, bleeding after intercourse or pain when urinating.

A check-up can be useful even if you don’t have symptoms. For instance, if you:

Have had unprotected sex with a new partner;

Are in a relationship and are deciding whether to stop using condoms;

Have a partner who has been diagnosed with an STI.

Regular screening for STIs is also recommended for people at higher risk of infection:

Sexually active people under the age of 29;

Men who have sex with men.

Most STIs have no symptoms, so regular testing will ensure people in these population groups are diagnosed and treated early.

If you don’t know whether you are at risk of an STI, you can take an online questionnaire such as "Am I OK?" to find out.

You can choose where to go

Your GP will be experienced at conducting a sensitive and confidential sexual examination. But you may prefer to keep this part of your life separate from your other health needs. So a specialised service is an option.

Depending on your needs, you can go to a local community clinic, men’s clinics (sponsored nationally by the Department of Health) or one of the national Marie Stopes clinics.

Counselling services are also available for adult and child survivors of sexual abuse. People who have been sexually assaulted will often have an STI check as part of their care.

Know what to expect

The nurse or doctor will ask questions about your sexual history to determine which STIs to test for, and inform you about how to stay safe. It is important to answer honestly as your answers will help ensure you get the best advice and care.

Questions that will be asked

When was the last time you had sex and was this with a casual or regular partner?

If regular, how long have you been in the relationship?

Was this a male or female partner and what type of sex was it: oral, vaginal, anal?

How many partners have you had over the past 12 months and were they male, female or both?

Did you use condoms always, sometimes or never?

When was your last sexual health check? Have you ever had an STI?

Checking for STIs usually involves either a urine test or, for women, a self-collected vaginal swab for chlamydia and, in some cases, gonorrhoea. You may also have a blood test for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B.

At the end of the check you should know which STIs you have been tested for and why. You should also be clear about how you will receive any test results.

The nurse or doctor won’t be shocked

Health professionals are trained to help make you feel at ease regardless of your background, age, gender or sexual identity. Nothing is off-limits and nothing you share will surprise or shock us. You will never be judged and you are in control of the direction of the consultation.

It can feel overwhelming to try fit everything into a single consultation. You can always return if there is more ground to cover.

Be assured it’s all confidential

All medical professionals are bound by privacy and confidentiality laws. Everything that occurs during the consultation will be kept confidential and cannot be shared with anyone without your consent.

Young people have the same right to confidentiality as older people. The only exception to this is if the medical staff have serious concerns about your safety or that of someone else.

You can take along a ‘buddy’

Some people prefer to “go it alone”. But enlisting a buddy can give you emotional support and help you remember the questions you wanted to ask. There are no rules about who you can bring along. It can be anyone who makes you feel safe and can provide emotional support such as a partner, an older sibling or a good friend.

Just be aware that the doctor or nurse will need to see you alone for part of the consultation to ensure you are able to speak freely and are not being coerced.

No need to be ‘groomed’ down there

Don’t feel worried about not being perfectly “groomed” before a sexual health check. There’s no need to apologise for being unshaved, unwaxed or not freshly showered. Even if there is a need to perform a physical examination, staff understand that you may have dashed in during a busy work day.

Just as you will never be judged for what you tell them, you will never be judged for how you present.

The medical staff simply appreciate that you have taken the time out to take care of your sexual health. - The Conversation

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