On a daily basis I get maybe thirty or forty emails from people reading this column or people visiting my website. Some are asking for support, others asking questions about HIV, a few are even hate-mail (the crazies are everywhere) – and an alarming number telling me that they’ve never had a HIV and/or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) screening.
Of course I always handle these messages sensitively. I suggest that they should go and book themselves in for a full STI screening and even provide a link to the Terrence Higgins Trust website where they can pop in their
postcode and find a clinic near them. But the whole exchange often leaves me baffled and concerned. Many of these people are in their mid-to-late twenties – how they have got this far in life (presumably having sex along the way) and never having had a check up?
Is it simply a case of sticking their heads in the sand or is there something more going on here? Having spoken to some of them in more depth there’s definitely some ostrich like behaviour for sure, for some ignorance really is bliss, if you don’t know something is wrong then you don’t need to worry about it – but for others it’s a fear of the testing process itself, and this can only be due to lack of education around the topic.
Going for a STI screening really is not that big a deal. Honestly. I went for one only the other month (I go every six months – and so should you if you’re sexually active). Here’s what happened:
I arrived at the clinic at about 10am. I sat around watching Jeremy Kyle in the waiting room until I was called through by a doctor. They ask you a few simple questions:
Why’ve you come in today? “routine testing”,
Do you have any symptoms? “none”,
Any pre-existing conditions? “HIV-positive”.
After that I head back to the waiting room for a couple of minutes for a spot more Jezza (turns out he wasn’t the father). Then a nurse calls me through to one of the other rooms. She takes a couple of throat swabs (say “ahhhh”), a tiny swab from the end of my penis (it does pinch a little, but it doesn’t hurt), and a swab from my ass. Another nurse comes into to take a couple of vials of blood and then I’m given a little bottle to go put a urine sample in. I’m good to go. That’s it! takes about 45 minutes, one hour tops. They’ll text me any results in two weeks time.
(If I didn’t already know that I was HIV-Positive they would have also offered a HIV Rapid Test, which gives you a result in 15 minutes)
It’s incredibly important that each of us get regular STI screenings. Most sexual health charities recommend twice a year or more frequent if you’re more sexually active. Whilst you may not have any symptoms you may still carry any number of infections without even knowing it. I myself had absolutely none of the ‘flu-like’ symptoms often associated with HIV and only found out at one of my regular screenings.
Getting checked out doesn’t just mean that you’re looking after yourself, it means you’re showing respect and looking out for those who you sleep with – after all you’d hope anyone you slept with to have been checked recently, wouldn’t you?
So if you’ve never been checked out, or maybe it’s been far too long since your last test perhaps today’s good deed could be calling up your clinic and booking yourself in for a little MOT. Don’t know where your nearest one is – sorry, that’s no excuse. Head over to THT.org.uk and click ‘Sexual health’ to use their ‘Service Finder’ tool.