THE BLOG

Sexual Health Is Not Embarrassing So Why Are We Still So Reluctant To Go To A Doctor?

13/07/2017 13:23 BST | Updated 13/07/2017 13:23 BST

Why on earth is talking about bodies and sex and STIs just so embarrassing? As soon as something goes wrong down there we all clam up pretend it isn't happening and run in the opposite direction from anyone who can help.

I've worked in a sexual health clinic for 30 years. I've seen people literally faint and pass out flat on the floor unconscious when I even mentioned the word "swab." I've seen the same reaction from others if I even mention the word blood test, long before I've reached for a syringe and a needle.

Here's the thing. At medical school I had the hideous task of going to the anatomy room. There, submerged in tanks of foul smelling formaldehyde, were numerous corpses in different stages of dissection and putrefaction. But one thing I can tell you. In fact, even down to the nerves, bones and joints, these bodies are identical. The hip bone really is connected to the thigh bone I can assure you. Anatomically, we are all exactly the same.

However, everyone seems to have at least one hang up and feel there is something wrong or different about their 'private' parts. Maybe they feel one breast or one testicle is bigger than the other, maybe they have bright red pubic hair, long lips on the vulva, shy about a clitoral piercing or even a nasty set of varicose veins. But the key point here is we healthcare professionals have seen it all before. Plus we are trained to be non judgemental. Plus whatever we say or write is confidential. There are strict rules on that. So I wouldn't waste any time on just getting down to the clinic and stripping off. Not doing so has far worse consequences.

But the starting point of course, is the conversation in the clinic. Having the nerve to bring up the subject in the first place. Medical staff are trained to ask open ended questions, like "What can I do for you today?" or "What's brought you along to the clinic?" They only have a limited amount of time, so a lot of stammering and beating about the bush (literally!) is not helpful. Just say what you've come to say and get it over with. They will lead the questioning after that.

People use all sorts of language to describe their symptoms and their genitalia --dick, fanny, todger, pecker, pussy, snatch and lady parts are all common-- don't be afraid to say the word although of course penis and vagina might be more professional if you feel that way inclined... They are not swear words, and the last two at least are anatomically correct. It's absolutely fine to get on and say what you have to say.

Sex education starts early these days. Often the sessions are more focussed on relationships and do include an emphasis on being ready to have a sexual relationship and being able to say no. Often young people think everyone is doing it and that they have to jump on the band wagon when this is very often not actually the case. But silence is the conspiracy. Talking about sex and relationships both to each other and within the home environment is a key to destigmatising the subject and keeping young people safe.

Sometimes though, it's not so much having a test that's the problem it's the worry of getting the results. Important to know then that some tests can be done with the result available almost immediately. Others can sometimes be turned around very quickly, often within 24 hours. Although not all STIs can be cured and eradicated, they can all be treated so it's useful to keep that firmly in mind and if any tests are positive there are trained staff on hand to support you through the whole process.

It's all very well to say all these things but it does feel so much worse when it happens to you. I do know that, as shock horror I've been a patient myself. I've climbed onto the gynaecologist chairs and bared my bits for all to see. I just shut my eyes and remember everything I've written in this article. And no-one has laughed at me yet or not as far as I know. I didn't like it very much, but I was grateful for the help at the time and lived to tell the tale. Honestly, it was not an experience I look forward to repeating, but health is very important. And it's no good ignoring the signs. Much better to get on and get it over with.

We have a nice picture on the ceiling of our consultation room, it's a great talking point we have the radio on too and the music is a great distraction. We can always find a chaperone who can hold your hand and once it's over you will have joined the ranks of millions. For the healthcare team, with no disrespect intended, they are ready for the next set of genitals on the conveyor belt.

So next time something goes wrong or doesn't feel right or you start to feel worried just remember the facts. As my mother used to say, "Even the Queen sits on the toilet!"