A sexual health clinic covers all areas of sexual health and sexual diseases. They differ from family planning clinics in that they deal with more than just contraception and family planning. Sexual health clinics include tests and treatments for a wide range of genito-urinary problems, and are sometimes referred to as Genito-Urinary Medicine clinics or GUM clinics.
Sexual health clinics are completely confidential; you do not need to be referred by your GP and your GP will not be told of your visit without your permission.
This article on finding a sexual health clinic is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What services do sexual health clinics offer?
Sexual health clinics cover everything a family planning clinic does, including conception and contraception advice, emergency contraception and the ‘morning after’ pill and pregnancy tests.
They also provide proactive advice on how to maintain sexual health, both at home and on holiday, as well as offering tests for a wide variety of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These include:
Sexual health clinics can also test for other genital and urinary infections, such as cystitis, urethritis and candidiasis.
As well as testing and treating any STIs you may have, a sexual health clinic will also offer advice on infection risks. This will probably include your partner having a test, and may require former partners to be tested too. Some sexual health clinics will contact former partners on your behalf to protect your anonymity. Your sexual health clinic will offer advice on how to reduce the risk to your partner while you have an infection, and tell you how long you need to take extra precautions.
Sexual health clinics also deal with cases of sexual assault, offering treatment, advice and counselling to help victims to deal with what has happened and support them should they decide to report the assault to the police.
How to find them
You can get referred to a sexual health clinic through your GP, but this is not compulsory. Many people may not want their family doctor to know about an STI, and so you can simply refer yourself. Many clinics operate a walk-in service on selected days, so you may not even need an appointment.
You can find details of your nearest sexual health clinic through the Family Planning Association by calling 0845 122 8690, or by calling NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. You can also get advice on finding a sexual health clinic from the sexual health helpline on 0800 567123.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you can get specialist help from the Sexual Assault Referral Centre. To find your nearest SARC, visit the Home Office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk.
What to expect
Naturally, sexual health is a very personal issue, especially where STIs are involved. That’s why complete discretion is assured at all sexual health clinics. You will have to give your name and address, but this is for the clinic's records only and your data will not be shared.
All advice, tests and treatment provided are given free of charge and in complete confidence. Your partner, parents or GP will not be told without your consent, although as discussed above, there may be a need to contact current or former partners for their own protection.
You are welcome to bring a friend or relative for moral support and if you need an examination as part of your treatment, you will be offered a chaperone. Test results will never be disclosed to anyone else, and if posted, will always be sent in a plain envelope, while telephone messages will always be discreet.
Clinics for young people
Specialist sexual health clinics for young people provide trained counsellors who have experience in dealing with the issues from a young person’s perspective. Even if you are underage, you can still count on their complete discretion. While they will always advise you to talk to your parents if you can, they will never contact your parents without your consent.
To find your nearest sexual health clinic for young people, contact Brook on 0808 802 1234 or visit their website at www.brook.org.uk. Young people can also get sexual health advice by calling Sexwise on 0800 28 29 30.
When to visit them
Sexual health clinics are as much about promoting good sexual health as they are about treating sexual infections, so you should feel free to contact your local sexual health clinic anytime you need help or advice.
If you have had unprotected sex and think that you may have an STI, even if you have no symptoms, you should contact your local sexual health clinic as soon as possible. Most STIs can be treated quickly, easily and discreetly with antibiotics, and treatment is more effective the earlier it is given in the infection cycle.
Equally, while HIV and AIDS have no current cure, the sooner you begin treatment to delay and reduce the symptoms the more effective it will be. You should never put off visiting a sexual health clinic if you feel you have cause to need their services. Whatever embarrassment you may feel, swift treatment and containment are essential to protect your health and the health of your partner.