sex

'I did it in my work lunch break.' 13 people share the first sexual health test they ever had.

I’m sitting in my doctor’s waiting room filled with nervous energy.

Part of me wants to head for the door and go back home. Part of me isn’t sure what to expect.

Will I be judged? Will this hurt? Is it going to be invasive?

Before I have enough time to go any further down my mental rabbit hole, my name is called.

This is it. This is the moment. There’s no turning back now. I’m really doing this. I’m getting my first STI test…

A prick of a needle, a quick swab, and some very unmemorable small talk later, I’m done. Wait – that was it?

That was almost a decade ago now, and not much has changed in the many times I’ve been back to have refresher STI test done (you might even be asked to wee in a jar, and that’s so fine).

Except for my nerves. Those are long gone. Mainly because, of all my medical appointments, my STI test is the quickest and least eventful. It’s almost – dare I say it – boring.

As it turns out, STI testing is incredibly easy and non-invasive. And STIs themselves are more treatable than ever before. Additionally, many STIs don’t actually present with obvious symptoms, so it’s impossible to know if you’ve got one without getting checked. And an STI left unchecked can result in permanent damage to your body and reproductive health. In fact, pregnant women with syphilis are at an increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

According to the Victorian Government’s STI Testing Week campaign, it’s estimated that one in six people will contract an STI at some point during their lives.

Which begs the question – why don’t more people get regular testing?

Are STIs even all that common?

There’s a general misconception that we don’t need to worry about checking for STIs anymore, because they’re just not as common. In reality, research shows their prevalence has risen significantly. In particular, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have all seen dramatic spikes in the past decade, largely due to the fact many of us are living with the infections without even knowing it.

As a sex-positive advocate who prioritises my own sexual and reproductive health, I can’t think of a reason not to get tested – particularly if you’re a woman who’s trying to conceive.

Before you go, just know that tests can be different depending upon your sexual history, behaviours and potential risks. Urine tests are for chlamydia and gonorrhoea; blood tests are for syphilis and HIV; and swabs are for syphilis and gonorrhoea. They’re all easy to do and you’ll be armed with the treatment information you need if your result isn’t what you hoped.

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So, to put your apprehensions about the test to rest, I asked 13 people to tell me about their own first time getting checked, proving once and for all, there’s nothing to fear.

1. Charlotte, 23
“I went to a sexual health clinic. It was free and very laid-back and friendly there. I go regularly now. I feel like it’s a really comfortable, non-judgemental atmosphere.”

2. Liv, 28
“I went to get mine done on my work lunch break. I told the doctor about my sexual history, and she told me what she was testing for, and how to swab myself in the bathroom. I took the swab back in a ziplock bag, then they drew my blood. I left with a purse full of flavoured condoms and lube!”

3. Kev, 41
“My first test was memorable, because I stopped in to get it on the way to my uncle’s funeral. The moment reminded me about the importance of prioritising my health. It was extremely quick, easy and painless.”

4. Mel, 20
“I had abdominal pain and heavy bleeding, which, at the time, I didn’t even suspect could be STI-related. My doctor suggested running a test, and I found out I actually had PID – Pelvic Inflammatory Disease – which I was able to receive treatment for as a result of getting tested.”

sti check
STIs don't always have symptoms, so getting tested is something you shouldn't put off. Image: Getty.

5. Lara, 32
“To be honest, getting tested was a complete non-event. I just peed in a cup and had my mouth swabbed. Since my first test, I’ve had regular checks done. I’m diligent with practising safe sex when I’m single, so for me, it’s more about getting the green light to have unprotected sex with a new long-term partner.”

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6. Madison, 28
“I’m a trans woman, but my first STI test was back when I used to identify as a gay man. I researched online and went to a government clinic. I called to book, but they just said I could come any time. It was a breeze, everyone was very casual and non-judgemental. A few minutes after arriving, I had an anal swab, oral swab, and bloods taken. I left with a booklet on STIs and free condoms.”

7. Alicia, 21
“My uni has a program where doctors come in and are available to provide STI tests a couple of times a semester. It’s a quick and easy process. I have a finger prick instead of a full blood test, as I’m sensitive to needles. The doctor is extremely informative and has taught me a lot about STIs I didn’t previously know.”

8. Luke, 22
“I got it done during my second year of uni, when I came out of a long-term relationship and started having casual sex. The doctor did a blood test for chlamydia and syphilis. I wasn’t actually showing symptoms of either – it was the first time I learned not all STIs show symptoms.”

9. Sarah, 34
“I went to a local clinic, where I gave a urine sample and blood. I wanted to be thorough, so asked for a full battery of testing. They explained what was typically included and gave me further detail about the process. It was very informative and easy to do.”

10. Greg, 35
“I went to my local GP and requested the test. They took some blood and urine. It was all very easy, and the results came back clear, which gave me peace of mind.”

11. Dana, 51
“It was much simpler than I thought it would be. I made an appointment with my local clinic and they did a blood draw for HIV and took a urine sample for the rest. The entire process was very fast. Probably the easiest doctor’s visit I’ve ever had.”

12. Aidan, 45
“I’m in my mid-40s, so was feeling a bit anxious, but my doctor was fantastic. Very understanding, and no judgement at all. I did urine and blood tests, which came back all clear. It was all very fuss-free.”

13. Joyce, 21
“My best friend and I went to the LGBTIQ centre together to get it done. The experience was quick and hassle-free. They also did a good job of explaining everything to me, so it wasn’t intimidating.”

There's no need to feel any shame in taking control of your sexual health. Be safe and don't put off getting tested.

STI testing is available from your local doctor, family planning clinics, community health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and specialist sexual health clinics. For more information visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/STI

Nadia Bokody is a sex-positive writer and sexual health advocate. Follow her on Instagram.

Department of Health and Human Services Victoria

There are many types of STIs, most are curable and all are treatable. If left untreated, STIs can cause long term effects on the body, including infertility. It is estimated that around one in every six people will get an STI – and most don’t even know it. STI testing is available from your local doctor, family planning clinics, community health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and specialist sexual health clinics. Tests are quick, easy and confidential.

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