It isn’t often that I find myself at the city’s Sexual Health clinic, but this morning I was there to offer support to my friend Claire* who joked that she’d been, in the immortal words of Beyoncé Knowles in Lady Gaga’s utterly fabulous video Telephone “a very bad girl. A very, very, bad, bad girl”. Lucky Claire.
As someone who works flexible hours, I often get called on to accompany friends to hospital appointments, wedding dress fittings and the like. I’d been to our local sexual health clinic The Claude Nicol Centre before, when my husband and I first got together – after all, it’s always good to have a thorough MOT before you embark on a protection-free relationship – but that was many years previously, and I’d completely forgotten about the experience. For instance, I’d forgotten that you don’t need a GP referral to attend the clinic, and that your GP need never even know you’ve visited. This means you can keep your sexual activities to yourself, and even receive a (free!) prescription without your doctor knowing. You can call and make an appointment at a Sexual Health Clinic, or just attend one of their walk-in sessions. And if you find you do have an infection, you can send any relevant ex-partners an anonymous ‘Contact Card’, suggesting they contact their own local version of the Claude Nicol Centre for any necessary treatment. You can even have your own test results sent by text message direct to your mobile phone.
The clinicians at your local centre also offer support and advice for any accidental pregnancies, and have encyclopaedic knowledge on every form of contraception available, meaning they can advise on the best method for you personally dependant on your body and lifestyle. Perhaps the most impressive aspect to my city’s Sexual Health Centre is that because they have the latest technology and testing methods, they can often any diagnose STIs and treat the same day. That’s right, you can have a test taken for every STI under the sun, receive most of the results and have any necessary follow-up treatment discussed and dispatched in less than two hours. These guys are fully kitted out, with equipment running the gamut of blood tests, swabs, urine samples, slides under microscopes and petri-dishes in incubators, most processed in the clinic itself. It’s quite incredible. They’re like the Heston Blumenthal of Sexual Health – in fact, he might like to swap his extensive lab for theirs…
On my previous visit I’d marvelled at the good humour and tolerance shown by the clearly extremely busy health clinicians, neatly efficient, clipboards in hand, calling visitors by their first names into one room, then shortly after, exiting – as if by magic – by another door entirely. Exceedingly welcome, kind and non-judgemental, as a patient you just know that these guys have seen it all, and that therefore they’re neither bothered nor surprised by what you’ve come to share with them. These health workers are so utterly un-shockable, so fore-armed with a wealth of personal and professional experience, that they manage to make an excruciatingly embarrassing situation into an impressively non-humiliating experience. On this my friend Claire and I agreed wholeheartedly.
Open to everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or sexuality, if you need the morning after pill, free condoms or lube, or you’re a sex worker, gay teen, underage girl, transsexual or a married man (or both!), whomever you are and however you choose to lead your life, your local Sexual Health clinic offers every possible service and has your best interests at heart – including your anonymity. As the receptionist on the desk at The Claude Nicol explained, “I’ve been here eight years: I’m part of the furniture. We’re so busy we barely get tea or loo breaks, but I stay here because the people are so nice.” And you know what? She’s dead right. As Claire put it, there’s really nothing to be scared of: so get it off your chest, get tested, and get the support you need.
*Not her real name