FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I don't sleep around – why do I need a test?
Even if you can count your partners on one hand, you should still get tested. An ICM poll for The Observer newspaper in 2008 suggested that on average, Britons will have 9 sexual partners in their lifetime. This means that you are inadvertently connected to a lot of other people, even if you've only had a few partners. Unless you and your current partner have only ever slept with each other, it's still possible for you to have caught something. Getting an STI test doesn't mean that you are ‘slutty’ or sleep around – it just means that you are responsible about your health and that of your partner.
I've always put off getting a test because I'm embarrassed.
There is no need to be embarrassed. The doctor or nurse you will deal with will have had a huge amount of experience in sexual health. It's fair enough to not want to show your bits to a stranger, but for them it's no different from examining your throat or ears. Okay, it's not exactly fun to go to the doctors, but feeling a bit awkward for a few minutes is worth it to safeguard your health. If you are feeling especially nervous, let the person examining you know so they can try to make the process as easy as possible. You may also want to take a friend or partner with you.
I've got no symptoms – could I still be infected?
Yes. Many people who have contracted an STI will not have any symptoms. 70% of women and 50% of men won't show any symptoms of Chlamydia, while often people mistake the early stages of HIV, hepatitis or syphilis for flu, all of which can be fatal when not treated in a timely fashion. This is why it is recommended to have regular check ups and be especially vigilant if you have had unprotected sex.
I tested positive for an STI and got treated – should I get re-tested to make sure it was cured?
If you have contracted an infection, most will clear up with a course of anti-biotics. However it is a good idea to get retested after treatment. It is usually recommended that patients get re-tested 3 months after finishing treatment.
I'm worried about telling my partner I've got an infection – I'm scared they will think I cheated. What do I say?
Clinics can help you tell your partner so speak to your nurse or doctor to get advice about this. A recent development is the option to advise ex or current partners that they may be infected anonymously. If you test positive for an STI, they will contact any past sexual partners to inform them that they should get tested – but will only say that they are doing so ‘because a patient who has tested positive requested they do so’. Consequently you will not be named.
One thing to bear in mind is that just because you or your partner have tested positive for something, it doesn't necessarily mean that anyone has been cheating – it is impossible to tell how long an infection has been present for.
I'm over 50 – surely I don't need to worry about condoms anymore!
You may not need condoms to protect against unwanted pregnancy, but being older certainly doesn't protect you against catching an STI. Changing social structures, such as divorce and second families, mean that it is becoming more common for the older generation to have new sexual partners. Unfortunately, this has lead to a rise in the STI infection rates amongst the over-50s. No matter what age you are, you still need to be protected.
How long will a test take?
The actual test itself takes about 20 minutes; however the time you spend in the clinic will depend on the efficiency and the queue of people in front of you. Since most GUM clinics operate a ‘drop in’ service, visits can be time consuming and appointments can be hard to get. If you are short on time and prepared to pay then online testing is quick and easy – and is also discrete, should that be a consideration! Following registration, testing kits and treatment (if required) can be delivered quickly to a nominated address.