Health

The Stigma Of Sexual Health Clinics

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Jose Claxton
Simone van der Koelen on unsplash

I’m currently sat in the waiting room of my local sexual health clinic. I’ve not made eye contact with anyone except the receptionist, who does not want to be here on a Saturday.

It’s quiet with a few mumblers who’ve come in a herd, whispering about their drunk conquests of hot boys the night before- their reason for being here today.

There are a few older men, I’m still trying to work out why they’re here. My eyes scan the posters on the walls for inspiration. I’m guessing a STD.

A young girl with her mother sits in the corner, the former crying silently into a wet tissue, face smeared with makeup and a stench of alcohol lingers around them. I don’t think she’s slept. I dread the thought of what’s happened to her. Simply Red plays on a radio, shackled to the wall.

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Elliott gets called in by the doctor next. You know the type; short back and sides, long on top. Adidas tracksuit bottoms, bright white trainers, smells of cigarettes and vodka, he can’t be more than 20.

A pair of Asian women take selfies on a bright pink phone, I hold my own higher to cover my face as I’m sat behind them. I don’t know if they know my friends. I don’t know why they’re here.

A young couple walk in, he looks uncomfortable, she looks like she’s done this before. I’m glad he’s come with her, she looks a little stressed but they’re having a quiet laugh.

My wait is going to be around an hour and a half, but the receptionist has said the same thing to the last four people who came in behind me. I’ve been here forty minutes so far, however this isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve even brought I’ll Be Gone in the Dark to read and a water bottle.

I’m here to collect my annual prescription of contraceptive pills, get my blood pressure checked and answer questions about my sexual health.

I’m really lucky to live in a country that has free healthcare, I can imagine if I’d have to pay for my prescription I’d have a few children by now.

The cloak and daggers involved with visiting this clinic that prompts me to write this post. I used to work around the corner from this specific clinic so I’d come here at lunchtime, which suited me perfectly. Rumours started about me the first time a colleague saw me walk out the doors. They thought I was getting a STD taken care of, some thought I was pregnant, either way the rumours swirled.

One night when we were out drinking, a guy on my team flatly asked me about the rumours. How do I answer this without embarrassing him or myself? I thought. Does he really want to talk about my sex life?

People at work have laughed about this clinic for years, about how the girls in my town should have reserved seats for their weekly visits. But what they don’t seem to understand is that other people use this free service. I’m here because I don’t want – oh someone from work has just walked in, that’s going to be awkward on Monday – my husband and I to become parents anytime soon – so I’m ensuring that doesn’t happen.

People have their own reasons for being here and I’m sure the majority of the guys here are waiting for STD testing but among the women, I guess most are here for some kind of pill.

My clinic offers a variety of services to deal with sexual health;

  • Sexually transmitted infection screening and treatment
  • Chlamydia testing and treatment
  • HIV testing and treatment
  • Pregnancy testing
  • Termination referrals
  • Free condoms
  • Contraception
  • Contraception procedures
  • Psychosexual counselling

And it’s all free. Perhaps we ought to stop judging people who use these services and applaud them for looking after themselves instead.

People are starting to filter out. My work colleague who’s walked in is doing everything to not look at me. There’s no reason for him to be here, he’s ‘happily’ married. I won’t be starting that rumour, fear not.

Find UK sexual health support services in your area www.nhs.uk.

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