What would you think if I suddenly told you that you have Chlamydia? What would be the first thing to run through your mind? I'm hoping it's not: "What the hell is THAT?!' I'm guessing it'd be more like: "Who the hell GAVE me that?!" A perfectly reasonable response, but unfortunately, as with many things in life, it's never that straight forward...
We shall return to this, but, to provide some context, the innovative team at Channel 4 have a new romantic comedy on at 10pm tonight called Scrotal Recall, charting the mission of a young man (Dylan Witter, played by folk musician and actor Johnny Flynn) tracking down his past sexual contacts when he discovers he has chlamydia.
Though it's clearly a rom-com at heart, the show also doubles as a pretty good way to remove the stigma often felt around STIs (sexually transmitted infections). And although Dylan is met at the outset by a rather dry and sarcastic delivery of diagnosis (played hilariously by comedian Vicki Pepperdine), rest assured, we in the NHS want to put you at ease that we are dutifully professional and supportive when it comes to sexual health.
Dylan is diagnosed with Chlamydia, a very common, very easily transmitted STI, that - like house prices in London - is on the increase. It - unlike house prices in London - is easy to resolve.
We would, depending on your requirement, give you either a one-off or week-long dose of antibiotics and therefore avoid such consequences as infertility and chronic joint pain which may occur over time if left untreated. We in the health care world call this a 'public health issue', and we take it very seriously.
So, back to 'your' diagnosis, and quite rightly one of the things we must do (and I use the word WE purposefully) is to inform all of your partners from the last six months to get treated.. "Oh gosh" you're thinking. "REALLY?"
There are a number of ways in which to do this. I won't go deep into the obvious, but suffice to say, I wouldn't feel any anger toward an 'old flame' texting me the, shall we say, 'informative news'. I would actually feel quite glad to know so that I can treat it promptly (and get back to worrying about my saving for a crazy mortgage...)
But for those who feel differently (and we do recognise there is a spectrum of reactions), there are anonymous emails and texts that can be sent. Hopefully these remove any awkwardness and the end result is same - there is an improved awareness of our sexual health to keep it just that: healthy.
As seen by Dylan in Scrotal Recall, we also have pre-written notification cards you can send to people should you choose. We recognise not everyone feels terribly accepting of such news, you yourself might feel bitter or angry, but I can only reassure you that we see many people every day with STI's, and treat them effectively. Think of it as a team effort to make everyone more aware, and more vigilant, so we can reduce the half a million diagnoses of STI's we see a year (half of which in 2012 were Chalmydia alone!).
We in the Sexual health Biz call this awareness 'partner notification', and although not everyone feel's able to do this, it is a really important tool in reducing the spread of STI's, and we salute Channel 4's main stream shows effort in bringing to light an important topic in a funny, honest and touching way.
We will never judge you, it's our job to give you unpleasant news if it's due, and if you ever need time to discuss this, or anything else you are concerned about with your sex life, we're right here, brimming with useful information just bursting from our insightful minds (I'm boasting on our behalf, but with good reason!).
Last but not least, regular testing is paramount. At least once a year please. I realise that many people don't like sitting in a waiting room feeling all self-conscious. So, think on this, EVERYONE'S there for the same reason, there really is nothing to feel embarrassed about (and yes, even the staff have sex lives and get checked regularly too!) There are of course home testing kits too if you'd prefer,
Above all else keep safe, use condoms and ENJOY your sex life. Don't judge yourself or others should you get 'that text' or 'that card' or that 'phone call' and we will all get along better and of course, reduce the spread of these infections together.
David-Andrew Taylor is a Senior Staff Nurse DipHe RGN INP. David has been a nurse for 12 years and has worked at 56 Dean Street (www.56deanstreet.nhs.uk), a central London sexual health and HIV clinic in Soho for the past two years.
Scrotal Recall airs at 10pm on Channel 4 on Thursdays. The first episode 'Abigail' starts tonight.