First thing’s first – please stop apologising about your pubic hair.
There is literally not a single nurse, doctor or health care assistant working in any sexual health clinic in the country that cares about your pubes.
Unless you’ve got a lump, a bump, irritated skin, discharge or a funny smell down there, we are immediately deleting the image of your bits from our memory banks. You’re normal. I promise. Even if you haven’t shaved or waxed. An hour after your appointment and we wouldn’t be able to pick you out of a genital line up.
How do I know this? Because I’m a sexual health nurse.
It’s my job to look at your bits. To run tests, to take blood, swabs, a detailed sexual history and to reassure you as much as I can that even if there’s something wrong, that it will be OK.
It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had. Sure, it takes a while to acclimatise to the environment – in the beginning I saw a fair few patients that had cheated on their partners and it made me a bit paranoid, but it passes. Yes, we treat chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, genital herpes and genital warts but what we deal with more than almost anything else is emotions. Namely guilt, shame and fear.
Getting to help people deal with some of those feelings is actually pretty great. So know that if you’re walking through the door of your local GUM clinic, that the people working there want to help you, not judge you. Sex is a part of life.
The number of people testing regularly throughout the UK has declined over the last few years which can be put down to a few big reasons, like funding cuts and bad sex education.
But here’s the thing: Most sexually transmitted infections have no symptoms. Sometimes it’s obvious that there’s a problem but most of the time the only way to know for sure to take a test.
You might have to wee in a pot or take some swabs and have a tiny blood test (warn your nurse if you’re frightened of needles and they will take extra care) but it’s so worth it.
Finding out early that you’ve got an infection can stop complications like painful symptoms or infertility happening to you, as well as lowering the risk that you’ll pass the infection on to someone else. You don’t even have to come and see us in a clinic to get tested anymore either, you can order a testing kit through the post and do it all in the privacy of your own home.
There’s been a lot of big, exciting developments in sexual health over the last few years, not just things like postal testing and much faster result times, which can make it easier and less embarrassing to check yourself.
PrEP, (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication that you can take before having sex to prevent HIV infection, and has drastically reduced the number of new HIV cases in the UK in the last three years. In London, the numbers have dropped by half.
Not everyone is eligible for the drug right now, only certain higher risk groups but PEP, (post-exposure prophylaxis) is free through the NHS for anyone who has had high risk unprotected sex. It has to be taken within 72 hours of the risk though, so if you’re worried, head to your GUM clinic asap.
Our HIV transmission rates are falling but London still accounts for a quarter of the country’s sexually transmitted infections.
Even if you don’t live in the big smoke, if you’re having unprotected sex, then you are at risk of an infection. Obviously, condoms are great for reducing your risk but regular testing is crucial.
So this sexual health week, take a friend, a friend with benefits or the love of your life and go get tested. We promise, we won’t remember your pubes.
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