Sexual Health Checkups: What To Expect
If you have had unprotected sex or are worried that you may have symptoms, you can go for a sexual health check-up with your GP or at a Sexual Health Clinic. Wherever you go, you may feel nervous about what you may be asked, how the tests are carried out or if you will be examined (and what that involves). You can be confident that the staff will be friendly, competent and understanding - they have heard and seen it all many times before!
Wherever you go, you can expect:
- Free advice, information, testing and treatment
- A friendly and relaxed atmosphere
- All discussions held in a private consultation space
- Non-judgemental and confidential services to all - including those under 16
- Important: if a professional has safeguarding concerns, they are obliged to follow processes to check on the safety of that young person. They should tell that young person that they are going to share confidential information before they do so.
The first step in any visit will be a chat with a healthcare professional. They will ask you about the kind of sex you have, whether you are worried about any symptoms and about your sexual partners. They will also ask you about your menstrual cycle and if you use any contraception. This is usually informal and a great opportunity to ask any questions you have and get advice from a sexual health expert.
Depending on the answers to the above questions you may need to provide different samples. There are lots of (incorrect) horror stories about sexual health samples and this can be a real worry, but most people are only asked for quick, painless samples they can take themselves in private. If you have specific symptoms, such as discharge from your penis, your healthcare professional may need to take a specific swab. Most swabs are like cotton buds but smaller and rounded.
- Urine sample (pee in a pot)
- Swabs that you can take yourself (throat, anal, low vaginal) – depending on the sex you have had
- Blood tests (for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B and C) – for some people at who are at risk
- Swabs that a healthcare professional may take (high vaginal, urethral) – these are uncommon tests for people with specific symptoms
Lots of people put off going to get an STI test because they are worried about a physical examination. If you have no symptoms, then a physical examination is not necessary.
If you have symptoms such as a rash, lump or bump then it will be reassuring to have it looked at by a health professional. Some people find this awkward at first, but the relief of having an answer and not having to worry constantly about it usually outweighs that initial feeling!
You can request to be examined by a male or female doctor or nurse, and you can also request for a male or female chaperone.
The healthcare professional will look at your penis and scrotum for any obvious signs of an STI. If you have discharge from your penis, they may ask you if they can take a sample by inserting a very small wire loop into the tip of your urethra (the tube that you wee from). This is vey quick and not normally painful.
The healthcare professional will first look at your vagina and vulva (outside of the vagina) for any obvious signs of an STI. They may check for internal lumps or discomfort using two gloved fingers. Finally, they will insert a speculum (a small plastic tool) so they can look internally at your cervix (neck of the womb) for any sign of infection. They may take swabs from your vagina, cervix or urethra before removing the speculum.
Sometimes treatment can be given straight away, and sometimes you will need to wait for your results to come back from the laboratory. Make sure to ask You may be given some of your test results straight away along with any necessary treatment. All samples have to be sent off to a lab so the results may take longer to come back. The clinic will arrange a confidential way to get these to you.
- Visit your GP - if you don't have one, you can find your nearest GP here (external link)
- See our Sexual Health Clinics page for teens and young people 25 and under
- Visit Central North West London NHS Trust - CNWL (external link) for a list of all sexual health clinics
- If you want to read more about common STIs you can visit our page