What Happens When You Go for an STI Test

Yesterday I went for my quarterly sexual health check-up. This is an important part of my life as a non-monogamous person and it’s now a really normal, routine, “no-big-deal” thing. But that wasn’t always the case! When I went for my first STI check-up at age 19, I was shaking like the proverbial leaf and had no idea what to expect.

Several medical sample tubes, for a post on STI testing

So let’s answer some common questions, shall we? Please bear in mind that my experiences are entirely based in the UK, so if you live in a different country your experience may vary somewhat.

Where do I even go for a test?

There are sexual health clinics or “GUM” (genito-urinary medicine) clinics at most major hospitals and at some smaller practices too. Just Google “sexual health test + [your town]”.

Some clinics have “walk in” times where you just turn up and wait to be seen. Bear in mind these tend to be VERY busy – I arrived 15 minutes before the clinic time officially started for my test, and still waited about an hour. Get there early, bring a book, and don’t expect to be seen in five minutes. Alternatively, some clinics have bookable appointments, where you ring up and book like any other medical appointment. Again, these services are very busy and in-demand so you might need to wait a couple of weeks to be seen. If you have symptoms, explain this at the clinic or on the phone and you may be seen sooner.

Do I have to pay?

Nope! In the UK, all sexual health services including testing and contraception are free of charge. Praise the NHS.

If I’m under 16, will they tell my parents?

No! As long as you’re over 13, you’re entitled to the same medical confidentiality as anyone. If your provider feels that there is a serious risk to your safety going on, such as sexual abuse, they may need to tell someone in order to keep you safe, but according to NHS guidelines “the risk would need to be serious and this would usually be discussed with you first”.

Also, if you’re under 18, get off my blog. This is not the space for you. Get yourself to Scarleteen.

Do I have to answer questions about my sex life?

Your provider will ask questions about your sexual practices so they can make sure they’re giving you all the tests and advice you need. You don’t HAVE to answer anything you don’t want to, of course, but it’s important to be as honest and thorough as you possibly can to make sure you get the best care. Everything you say is in strict confidence. Questions may include:

  • When was your most recent sexual encounter?
  • What is the sex of that partner? (They may assume opposite binary sex unless you tell them otherwise. It’s bad practice but heteronormativity is strong).
  • Is that partner your regular/only partner?
  • Have you ever injected drugs or knowingly had sex with someone who injects drugs?
  • Do you have reason to believe you might have come into contact with HIV?
  • Have you been raped or sexually assaulted? (If you indicate yes, they’ll ask if you need any support or resources).
  • Have you ever paid for, or been paid for, sex?
  • Have you had sex with someone born outside of the UK?
  • When was your last sexual health screening?
  • Are you pregnant or do you think you might be pregnant?

Once you’ve gone through these preliminary questions, it’s time for your test.

How is a test carried out?

There are slight variations depending on the clinic but here’s how it normally goes:

For folks with a vulva, you’ll swab the inside of your vagina and possibly provide a urine sample.

For folks with a penis, you’ll provide a urine sample and may also swab just inside your urethra.

If you engage in receptive anal sex, you will swab just inside your anus.

If you engage in oral sex, the health care provider will swab the back of your throat.

Unfortunately, anal and oral swabs are not always offered as a matter of course. You may need to prompt your provider for these. I strongly advise you do so, as infections can grow in these areas of the body without being present in the genitals.

The provider will then do a blood test to check for blood-borne STIs such as HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis. (You can get a vaccination against Hepatitis B and if you haven’t had the vaccine, I recommend you ask your provider for it. This is most commonly offered to men who have sex with men, or women who have sex with bisexual men, but I really believe everyone should get it if possible).

You do the vaginal and rectal swabs yourself in private, either behind a curtain in the consulting room or in the bathroom. Your provider will give clear instructions on correct insertion of the swabs. There is not usually a need for a genital examination unless you have any symptoms such as genital warts, a rash or pain.

Does the test hurt?

Not really. Throat, anal and vaginal swabs aren’t exactly comfortable but shouldn’t be painful either, and they only take a couple of seconds. Some men do find the urethral swab slightly painful but, again, you only need to go very slightly inside and it only takes a few seconds.

Some people (hi, I’m one of them) find blood tests make them feel a bit sick and lightheaded. If this is you, tell your provider and they’ll let you lie down and should check on you at every stage. The actual test feels like a brief quick scratch, nothing more.

Will my provider judge me for the things I tell them?

They really shouldn’t. I’ve been getting STI tests regularly for 10 years and only a couple of times encountered a judgemental provider. And yes, I always tell them I’m a polyamorous swinger and exactly how many partners I’ve had since my last test.

Your provider’s job is to help ensure your health and safety, not to judge you. If you feel that they are overly judgemental or they make inappropriate comments about the things you tell them, you should report this to the hospital or practice.

Again: this is really rare. Most sexual health professionals are absolutely lovely. Comments I’ve had on explaining my lifestyle range from “sounds like you have lots of fun!” to “it’s great to see you’re being responsible and taking care of everyone’s sexual health”.

Even the judgy comments were hardly “you’re a filthy slut and you’re going to hell”. They were more along the lines of, “you need to be aware that you’re at high risk for STIs and unwanted pregnancy” (“no I’m not, because I take precautions and know the facts”, I did not say but wanted to).

How and when will I get my results?

Many clinics operate a “no news is good news” policy, meaning that if you don’t hear from them within two weeks you can assume everything is fine. But they should also give you a card or phone number with details on how to check your results if you want to be sure. I always recommend you phone, as it is rare but possible for a clinic to lose your samples. This happened to my partner once, and they didn’t call to let him know he needed to be re-screened until after the two week window had passed.

Other clinics may text or email you (usually something simple like “your tests or all fine”) or, less commonly, ring you to let you know you’re in the clear.

What if I do have something?

If you do have an infection, they will ring you to let you know. Then you’ll make an appointment to go back to the clinic and make a plan for treatment. For most of the common STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, treatment is a simple course of antibiotics.

For more serious STIs it’s more complicated (if you have HIV, for example, you’ll be on medication for the rest of your life – but you can still live a totally normal, long and fulfilling life). STIs are not a death sentence. They are not a source of shame. They’re things that humans sometimes contract in the course of doing normal human activities like having sex – and it’s much better to know so that you can get the most effective treatment quickly.

Bear in mind that HSV (herpes) and HPV (human papillomavirus) are EXTREMELY common – most of us are carrying one, the other or both and may never even know it! – and are not picked up on standard screenings unless you have symptoms such as warts. HPV can also be picked up on cervical screenings, so if you have a vagina make sure you go for your smear tests.

But STI testing is just for sluts!

Nope! Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be getting tests. Stigma like this, that people who go for tests are inherently slutty (and that being slutty is bad) contribute to the misinformation and fear-mongering that are already far too ubiquitous in our culture.

How often should I get a screening? 

That really depends.

My partner and I go every three months because we are non-monogamous and quite promiscuous. Three months is also about the longest incubation period for any of the known STIs, so this schedule means that if we do contract something we are unlikely to have it for long without finding out.

If you’re a swinger, polyamorous or have a lot of casual sex, I really recommend the three-monthly schedule. At an absolute, absolute minimum, please try to go every six months.

Even if you’re in a monogamous relationship, it’s wise to test every now and then if there’s ANY possibility that either of you has had sex outside of your relationship at any point. Unfortunately, cheating is rife and many people have caught STIs this way and not known they had them for months or years.

Whatever your relationship style, I recommend a test before every new sexual partner where possible.

Anything else I need to know?

Many clinics offer free condoms and, less commonly, dams (for oral sex on vulvas). Don’t be afraid to ask for supplies or take them if they’re offered to you. Using barriers is the best way to protect yourself and your partners from STIs.

When did you last get tested? If it’s been a while, go and book one in!

Ten Fun or Meaningful Things to Do On International Celebrate Bisexuality Day

Did you know that September 23rd marks International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Also known as Bi Visibility Day, ICBD is observed by members of the bi community and our allies and supporters, and is used to campaign for greater bisexual visibility, to celebrate bi history and culture, and to show pride in our identities and those of the bi people we love.

If you’re low on energy today, or this is the first time you’ve heard of ICBD, here’s some easy and fun ways you can celebrate and make a difference!

The bi pride flag, for a post on international celebrate bisexuality day1. Wear something purple

Purple is the internationally recognised colour of bisexuality. I think this originally came from the idea of purple as a mix of pink (gay) and blue (straight), which is a little problematic. But, hey, we have our own colour!

If you don’t have the energy to do anything else today – and that’s A-okay! – then why not put on a purple shirt, scarf, shoes or other accessory to show your bi pride?

2. Tell the bi folks in your life that you love them

If you’re monosexual (gay or straight), this is a great time to reach out and support the bi people in your life. A “happy bisexuality day!” from a gay or straight friend has never failed to make me smile on September 23rd.

And if you’re bi, reach out to your fellow bisexual friends, partners and allies, wish them a happy ICBD, and maybe get together for some cake?

3. Share bi content on social media

A retweet, a share or a comment goes a long way towards supporting the visibility and normalisation of bi people on social media. Obviously your comfort levels will vary, and I would never ask someone to out themselves if they weren’t ready or put themselves at any risk, but if you can safely post on social media about queer issues, try these on for size:

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Just popping up to remind y’all that I’m still bi, regardless of my relationship status! I’ll be wearing purple to show my pride today. Will you wear something purple to show your support?”

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? I’m (straight/gay), but I support my bisexual friends! I’m wearing purple today in solidarity. Will you?”

4. Bust some myths

Hear someone say that bisexuality isn’t real, that bisexuality erases trans folks and enforces the gender binary, or that people can only be bi if they’re attracted to men and women exactly 50/50? Bust those myths! If it’s safe to do so, speak up! Explain why they’re wrong (see the linked articles for inspiration). Stand up for the bisexual people in your life and don’t tolerate biphobia when you see it.

5. Consume some bi media

Read books by bi authors (Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Robyn Ochs, Rachel Kramer-Bussell, Jennifer Baumgardner…). Listen to music by bi artists (Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Pink, Amy Winehouse…). Watch films or TV shows with bi storylines (try Imagine Me & You, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Call Me By Your Name, the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Loving Annabelle, Steven Universe…). Share content by your favourite bi bloggers, vloggers, indie writers and content creators (I’ll be doing a separate post on this later).

6. Give your favourite bisexual some cake

It’s well known that bisexuals love cake. It’s our little way of reclaiming that stupid “have your cake and eat it too” expression. Today is a great day to give your favourite bisexual (even if that’s yourself!) some cake.

7. Donate to causes that support bi people

LGBTQ+ causes have historically been pretty shitty about including either the B or the T in their work. Thankfully, this is improving, and there are now organisations specifically dedicated to improving the lives of bisexual people.

The Bisexual Index highlights and combats biphobia, works for bi inclusion in events such as Pride, and connects bi people to resources and community. They also have super-cute merch.

Bisexuals of Colour is a fantastic group for Black, Minority Ethnic and Mixed Heritage bisexual people. Check out their Tumblr and donate via Paypal (bis.of.colour at gmail dot com).

Biscuit is an online magazine and organisation for “modern bisexual women, femmes and those assigned female at birth”. If you experience life at the intersection of misogyny and biphobia, Biscuit is for you. You can donate at their homepage.

MindOut are the LGBTQ-specific arm of Mind, the UK’s mental health charity. Did you know that bisexual people are among the most likely to struggle with a mental health issue at some point during their lives? MindOut is dedicated to combating mental ill health within the LGBTQ+ community and as far as I can tell their bi inclusion is fantastic.

8. Subscribe to a bi magazine

Bi Community News keeps you in the loop about all the fun things happening in the UK-wide bisexual scene – and it’s only £12 for an entire year!

9. Support bi and queer porn makers

You know by now that you should be paying for your porn, yes? Well, what about awesome ethical feminist porn featuring real queer women having real sex? Check out Crashpad Series and Ersties to support awesome women-owned-and-created porn.

10. Plan to go to a bi event

Going to BiCon in 2019? It’s the highlight of the bisexual year and I really recommend checking it out if you can! Failing that, there are regular bi groups in cities up and down the country – check out this list and find one near you, and make a plan to go along. You’ll  be sure to make some friends and allies.

What are YOU doing to celebrate ICBD? Tweet me or comment and let me know.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions, as ever, are my own. If you want to support my coffee-and-cake habit for bisexuality day, you can do so via Ko-Fi.

Four Things That Don’t Make You Less Dominant

It’s October, which means it’s Kink Month for my lovely affiliates, Lovehoney. (Don’t forget to use reader code COFFKINK10 for 10% off any purchase before the end of 2017!) To celebrate, I’ve signed on for Loving BDSM’s 3o Days of D/s programme, and am going to aim to write a post each day inspired by that day’s subject.

A close up on a pair of metal handcuffs and keys. For a post on things that don't make you less dominant

Day One’s prompt was all about Dominance. Kayla and John ask:

What does dominance in a relationship mean to you? What traits will a Dominant have? How should a Dominant behave?

There are a lot of stereotypes of Dominants (and indeed submissives, but that’s another day) out there. Most of them are, to put it in very crass and British terms, complete stark raving bollocks. One only has to peruse the depths of Kinky & Popular on Fetlife to see all the One True Way-ism at play, people who are absolutely convinced that their particular brand of Dominance (or submission, or Mastery, or slavery) is the only real and correct one and that we should all just follow their lead if we want to Do It Right.

“A REAL Master always…”

“A true Dominant would never…”

It. Is. Bullshit. Dominance, like masculinity, is only as fragile as the owner allows it to be. If you’re secure in your identity as a Dominant or sometimes-Dominant person, no-one can take that away from you, the One Twue[1] Way be damned.

So here are four things that seem to give (particularly but not exclusively new or inexperienced) D-types anxiety about their Domly credentials.

Giving oral sex does not make you less Dominant.

If I could smash one stereotype with a mallet the size of my head, this would be the one. The length of time I stayed in a relationship where I didn’t get oral sex because my partner believed it was inherently beneath them as my Dominant was… well, let’s just say it was far, far too long.

This has been a bugbear for me for a really long time and I just recently discovered that Kayla also wrote an article on this very subject, way back when. It’s great. Go read it.

We do this kinky shit because it’s fun. As it turns out, a lot of people enjoy getting their cunt eaten or their dick sucked. Giving this pleasure to your partner doesn’t make you any less Dominant. In fact, there are lots of ways to explicitly frame it in a Dominant manner if that’s something you’re looking to do.

[Don’t believe me? Try shoving your submissive down onto the bed and growling, “spread your fucking legs, I’m going to eat you out until I’m satisfied. And don’t come, it’s for my pleasure, not yours.” You’re welcome.]

Loving your submissive does not make you less Dominant.

Where did we get this idea that Dominants are all cold, unfeeling monsters who are incapable of love? (And, incidentally, can we burn the Fifty Shades trilogy to the ground for, amongst MANY other sins, perpetuating this stereotype?)

BDSM and D/s is often a relationship build on profound vulnerability, trust, affection and love – on BOTH sides of the slash.

I’ve been madly in love with Dominants who just viewed me as a toy to use and then throw away, and couldn’t have given fewer fucks about me if they’d tried. I don’t recommend it.

Now, though I’ll play submissive for casual partners, I won’t deeply submit to someone unless I’m absolutely sure they love me. And that love, when I feel it, and the protection and care I feel coming from them as a result? That doesn’t diminish their control over me. It increases it.

Switching does not make you less Dominant.

Look, lots of us enjoy both sides of the slash to a greater or lesser extent. Whether you’re primarily a Top who enjoys getting flogged or tied up occasionally, the mythical fifty-fifty-down-the-middle Switch, or primarily a bottom who just has Toppy feels towards one specific partner… it doesn’t matter.

I actually really love submitting to Switches. I love it because they’ve experienced what it’s like on the other side of the whip (so to speak). This often results in increased empathy for my experience… as well as, sometimes, some truly wicked ideas that they’ve learned via the things they’ve previously had done to them!

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that True Dominants or real submissives stay in their lane and never experience the other side. Switches can be really Dominant AND really submissive. We’re not a watered-down approximation of both.

Being penetrated does not make you less Dominant.

Obviously, everyone gets to choose the acts they do and don’t want to engage in, and not everyone is into penetrative sex. But when I hear of female Dominants who’d really like to get fucked but feel they can’t have P-in-V sex with their submissive because being penetrated undermines their Dominance, or male Dominants who love anal pleasure but feel they can’t possibly take something in their ass or it’ll make them submissive… well, it makes me really sad.

Order him or her to fuck you until you’re satisfied. Make them fuck you but don’t let them get off until you’ve had your fill. Order them to fuck you in exactly the position, speed and depth YOU want to be fucked. Receiving P-in-V-or-A sex can be Domly as fuck.

In conclusion:

If you identify as Dominant, always or sometimes or occasionally or only on Fridays during the full moon or just in this specific relationship, you’re a fucking Dominant. There’s no set list of required or prohibited activities. We do this shit because it’s fun. So go forth and have some kinky fun.

[1] Not a typ0.

Kinky item of the day: bondage tape for securing your lover to the bed while you ravish them thoroughly.

FYI: this post contains affiliate links and if you use them, I may make a small commission. The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

[Offsite] The Five Biggest Lies I Was Told About Sex…

…And You Probably Were Too!

I’m honoured to be featured again as a guest writer for the excellent Exhibit A, talking lies we were all fed about sex, love and relationships. Here’s the teaser…

We are all fed toxic beliefs about sex and relationships from the time we’re tiny. Whether it’s parents, the church, teachers, your peers or crappy internet porn teaching you these things, they’re almost impossible to escape. Here are some of the most toxic, thoroughly busted by Yours Truly.

  1. “Your first time will be the best sex of your life.”

Why It’s Told: We live in a society where (female, or those read as female) virginity is highly prized and highly commodified, and where woman/vulva-owning people are not supposed to enjoy sex or seek it out for its own sake. Setting up sky-high expectations for the mythical perfect ‘first time’ puts young women under huge pressure to find the ‘right person’ and effectively serves as a warning. If it’s with the ‘wrong’ person, we’re told, we will miss out on the One And Only Opportunity to have The Best Sex Of Our Lives.

Read the whole post here.