Let's Talk About STI Clinics

Going to a sexual health clinic can sometimes be daunting and you may feel embarrassed, but there is no need. Sexual health services are confidential and non-judgemental, all staff will do their best to make you feel comfortable. Find out all you need to know about STI clinics.

Going to a sexual health clinic can sometimes be daunting and you may feel embarrassed, but there is no need - the staff at the clinic are professionals and I can assure you they have seen it all!

Sexual health services are confidential and non-judgemental, all staff will do their best to make you feel comfortable. At most clinics, you will be able to make an appointment, but sometimes drop-in clinics are facilitated. This means you turn up, take a number and wait to be called. Be prepared to wait for a little while, make sure you take something with you to keep you occupied (maybe some seminar reading).

Sexual health clinics during Covid-19

Sexual and reproductive health services are open during Covid-19 and for students studying on campus at Royal Holloway, the closest clinic is the Garden Clinic: Upton Hospital. The sexual health services at the Health Centre on campus have been temporarily suspended during the pandemic. The main change to the Garden Clinic's services is that you will no longer attend through the walk-in services. All services must be by appointment only.

To book an appointment online please click here. If no appointments are available online, you will need to call 0300 365 7777 between 08:30 - 16:30 Monday to Friday. Your call will be handled by a member of the customer service team, and they will triage you depending on your particular needs. Rest assured that should you be required to attend the clinic you will be seen safely. 

As a result of Covid-19 restrictions, you will be unable to wait within the clinic waiting room, you will instead be required to wait outside. You will not be able to be accompanied to the clinic as only patients are permitted inside, friends or relatives will be asked to wait outside.

As expected, please wear a mask when you attend the clinic - unless you are medically exempt.

The process

1. Providing your details

Once you arrive you will be asked for your name and contact details. If you feel uncomfortable you don’t have to provide your real name, but as mentioned everything is kept confidential; your GP won't even know about your visit without your permission.

Sometimes you may not access your test results on the same day as your visit to the clinic, this means your test results may need to be sent via text, phone or discreet letter. So make sure you give the correct contact details.

2. Questions and sexual history

A doctor or a nurse will ask you questions about your medical and sexual history such as:

  • When you last had sex (including oral, vaginal or anal)
  • Whether you've had unprotected sex
  • Whether you have any symptoms
  • Why you think you might have an infection

3. STI Screening

The doctor or nurse will explain what tests they think you need. At any point, you will be able to ask questions and ask them to explain the procedures. Equally, if for whatever reason at all you can request the test is stopped and the medical professional will safely stop the procedure.  

The test may include:

  • An examination of your genitals, mouth, anus and skin to look for obvious signs of infection
  • Testing a sample of your urine (pee)
  • Giving a blood sample
  • Taking swabs from the urethra (tube where you urinate) and any sores or blisters
  • Taking swabs from the throat and the rectum - this is less common

Some tests are able to be completed by yourself, the medical professional will provide you with a sterile swab and you can swab the area required yourself. The test is completed in a locked bathroom. Usually, there is a compartment where the test is left so the lab can collect it.

For people with vaginas the tests might also include:

Taking swabs from the vagina, which you can usually do yourself or having an internal examination: either speculum or bimanual.

Speculum exam:

  • A small speculum made from stainless steel or plastic is placed into the vagina and gently opened. Swabs are then taken from the vagina or cervix and sent to the lab for STI testing
  • The exam is likely to be uncomfortable, but it should never be painful. If you are in pain, tell the doctor and they may be able to switch to a smaller speculum

Bimanual exam:

  • The health care provider will slowly insert two gloved, lubricated fingers into your vagina, and will gently press on your lower abdomen with the other hand
  • You may feel pressure, but it shouldn't be painful
  • This is done to check your uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, and ovaries

4. Test Results

Depending on the nature of your STI screening you may get your results and treatment on the same day. Other test results may take up to two weeks. If you do need to wait for your results, the clinic will arrange your preference to receive them.

If you do test positive, please try not to worry. The Clinic will make arrangements for you to come back for treatment or collect treatment through your local pharmacy.

Many STIs are now curable, usually with a short course of oral antibiotics or injections. Some infections, such as HIV do not have a cure but there are treatments available.

If you have had sexual contact with someone who has tested positive, the clinic staff will more than likely start your course of treatment before your own results come back.

5. Telling Your Sexual Partner

If your test comes back positive, it is best to inform your sexual partner and any ex-partners.

The Clinic will be able to assist you with this process if you feel unable to do so. This service is called a 'Tracing' or 'Partner Notification'. The Clinic will generally contact the person by phone or text message saying along the lines of 'We have information to say that you've been in contact with someone and you need to make an appointment to come and get a check-up.' The Clinic will not release any of your information or even the name of the STI.

It might be a difficult conversation and so it's perfectly natural to feel anxious, but it's super important that you share this information, so your sexual partner(s) can seek treatment and prevent the further spread of infection.