Apparently I engage in risky sexual behaviour. This means that like the good millennial I am, I have to periodically get tested to make sure that I’m free from the nasties that make sex a little less fun and a little more infectious (and not in a good way). Although there are many sexual health clinics in London, many of which are excellent and come with rave reviews (with a particular shout out to the Dean Street Clinic in Soho), my personal preference is Imperial College’s own Jefferiss Wing in St Mary’s Hospital.
One of the problems with walk-in clinics is the unknown wait, but the Jefferiss Wing offers you the opportunity to book a slot via text, although just walking in, I’ve never waited an unreasonable amount of time. And, from the moment you walk in, to the moment you’re seen, you’re kept pretty well updated on how long you’ll be waiting. To keep you entertained, as well as college networks, there’s free wifi (although YouTube is blocked, sadly).
Everything in this clinic is completely anonymised. You’re asked to give your name and address to the staff when you arrive, which is exchanged for an anonymised patient number that you’ll be called by (make sure that you remember it, you’ll want to have it if you come back again). Although you can theoretically lie about your name and address, nothing is transferred to your primary medical records without your consent, and the address dictates which local authority they charge for the testing.
On arrival, you’re asked whether you’re experiencing any symptoms, need emergency treatments, or are there for a check up, and based on that you’ll be put in line to see either a doctor or a nurse. They also do cervical smears while you’re there, if you’ve been too lazy to get around to having one done with your regular doctor.
I’ve never seen anyone at this clinic, doctor or nurse, who wasn’t kind, friendly, and non-judgemental, and who I didn’t feel completely comfortable with. You can tell that the staff are genuinely passionate about sexual health and disease prevention, and that they want to provide the best patient care.
They’ll quiz you in detail on your partners within the last three months, and ask you some general questions about longer term risk factors. Regardless of your designated risk level (I was placed in the same risk group as men who have sex with men for money, which is almost an achievement), they’re incredibly thorough, and usually offer a full barrage of tests even if you’ve only had protected sex with one person one time.
If you ask nicely, they’ll give you some higher quality condoms
Alongside the usual tests and treatments for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, the Jefferiss Wing lets you opt in for on the spot hepatitis B vaccinations (as well as hepatitis A, if you’ve been rimming gay men, which I would recommend). There’s something incredibly reassuring about being immune to an incurable disease, so if given the option, you should definitely opt in.
As well as taking blood for more thorough testing, anyone worried can also get immediate fingerprick HIV testing, which is a fairly unusual offer, but very helpful if, like me, you become convinced that you have every transmittable infection the moment you enter the clinic. Of course, this only tells you your status up to three months ago, so it’s important to get this done regularly if you’re worried. Luckily, they have a system where you can skip the queues and pop to another clinic upstairs for a quick pinprick test if that’s all you need.
I think sexual health clinics are a bit of a social equaliser. From the teenage girls giggling and whispering amongst themselves, to the suited and booted city banker type, you see all sorts of people, all there for the same reason – they want to have safe sex. While most people probably spend their time waiting making up stories about why each person is there, you’ll find that you completely forget all about them the moment you leave.
And before you leave, don’t forget to take some free condoms. As well as the generic Mates condoms (the same ones available at the Union Reception, if you need any), if you ask nicely, they’ll give you some higher quality condoms, usually either Durex or Skyn.
Within a week or so, you’ll get a text telling you either that your results were all negative, or that you need to call the clinic. They send these results out as soon as they have them from their in-house lab – once my friend got hers back the same day. When I’m waiting for this text, I tend to get a bit paranoid and make all sorts of declarations about how I’d rather not know, if only to spare this torture. However, I enjoy talking about my sex life, so evaluating my partners with someone who is qualified to offer advice is a good day out in my book. Even if you don’t, I think it is really important to get checked regularly, if not for your own health, then for the safety of those you have sex with.
Oh, and you’ll be pleased to know that my last tests were totally clear.