S-T-Why you should get an STI check up

Resident over-sharer Charley Barnard attempts to demystify the process of an STI screening

Charley Barnard

Content Warning: discussion of STIs

It's a rite of passagecharley barnard

Are you a responsible, vagina owning, sexually active person? Do you care about your health? Do you want to be able to comfortably and confidently tell partners, “Yes, I’m clean!” and not have to say “Well, the last person I slept with said they were clean so I probably am too?” If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should get an STI test!

A month ago, the thought of that filled me with dread. You mean, I have to go to a clinic? And some lady as old as my auntie, wearing half-moon specs and rubber gloves will get me up in stirrups and have a look at my hoo-hah, and just by poking my labia a few times she’ll be able to tell exactly how many people I’ve slept with, and I’ll have to stare at the ceiling, humming ‘Despacito’ to myself, and hope the diagnosis isn’t impending death? A friend of mine even told me that they (the nurse, not my friend) would use a clamp to open my cervix. A CLAMP. On my cycle to the clinic, I was basically crying. STI tests were surely only designed to torture the modern vagina-owner and punish them for their sexual endeavours. If only I’d listened to my outmoded PSHE teacher in high school, and been chaste and proper. If only I’d saved myself for marriage. If only I’d opted for convent education rather than university.

“Maybe you, too, are thinking that you ought to get a test done and you’re just wishing someone could have cleared these myths up for you. Well, dear reader, that someone is me”

Maybe you share my anxieties, or maybe you already know that I was frightfully misinformed. Maybe you, too, are thinking that you ought to get a test done and you’re just wishing someone could have cleared these myths up for you. Well, dear reader, that someone is me. If I could have googled “what happens when you get an STI test” and have someone break down, step by step, everything about it, I would not have been half as anxious.

Making the appointment:

To be honest, this was half the struggle. The Lime Tree Clinic operates in a way which means they can only offer appointments two days in advance, and to get the good ones you have to call up early. So, if you want an appointment for a specific time on Friday, you have to call up at 8:30 on Wednesday morning. Who came up with this idea, honestly. Why can’t everywhere just do online booking systems like everyone else in the 21st century. NO ONE LIKES TALKING ON THE PHONE.

I had to give my name, date of birth, and state what service I required. When I said I wanted an STI screening, I was asked, “Is that for peace of mind or do you have any symptoms?” Luckily, it was peace of mind, and I didn’t have to describe symptoms over the phone – yet another argument for online booking. However, it’s these people’s job to listen to people talk about all the unsexy elements of sex organs, so there is absolutely no reason to be embarrassed. I know that’s easy enough for me to say, and I’m sorry if your vagina has sprouted wings and started reciting Shakespeare, and I’m telling you ‘just don’t be embarrassed!’

At the clinic:

As you already know, I was very, very nervous about this. Was I out of breath and sweaty because I’d just cycled all the way down Mill Road, or was it because I was low key having a panic attack in the waiting room, imagining those barbaric clamps they were going to introduce to my very shy nether-regions? However, everybody was very nice and friendly! I had to fill in a form in the waiting room, detailing my sexual history in a fair bit of detail. This is just so they know what you’re most at risk of, and which tests to run, and the only person who sees it is the nurse:

  • Are you over 18?
  • Do you have any unusual discharge from your genital areas?
  • Do you have pain passing urine?
  • Do you have pain having sex?
  • Do you have any lumps, bumps or blisters on your genital area?
  • Have you recently had sex with someone known to have an STI?
  • Have you recently been sexually assaulted?
  • Have you or your partners injected drugs since your last Sexual Health Screen?
  • Have you or your partners paid or been paid for sex since your last Sexual Health Screen?
  • Have you recently had contact with a partner from outside the UK? If so which country/s?
  • Is there any chance you might be pregnant?
  • Have you had sex with men who have sex with other men?

In the room itself, the nurse gently questioned me about the “I’ve had sex with men who have sex with other men” aspect of my form. She was non-judgemental and did her best to make me feel comfortable. I was offered a routine blood test to test for HIV and Hepatitis B, and also a vaccine against Hep B if sleeping with men who also sleep with men is something I do regularly. During the blood test, she was wonderful. I HATE needles, and we spoke about my cat back home for the entire time so that I wouldn’t cry. What a lady.

Then, it came to the vaginal swab. This is the part where I anticipated her saying, “Now darling, if you’ll just hop up onto the bed, I’m going to call in a doctor from 1640 and we’ll get a good gander at that cervix.” Basically, I was imagining an extract from one of those historical hospital segments of Horrible Histories. This didn’t happen. She pulled across the curtain, handed me the swab, and I took it myself, 100% pain free! The clinic does offer both throat and rectal examinations for other STIs, but these don’t happen as standard.


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I heard back within a week, and was told I’m clean of STIs. If this hadn’t been the case, most common ones can be cleared up with a cheeky round of antibiotics and a pep talk to use condoms next time.

Tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia can be sent to you, so you can do them from the comfort of your own home! Since both of these STIs are very common (in 2016, there were 128,000 chlamydia diagnoses!) and as often as 70% of the time, they can be symptomless for people with vaginas, it’s really worth getting one just to check