I remember exactly where I was when I got the call.
It was one of those “Monday” Mondays. You know, the ones that are cold, rainy, with packed tubes and alarms that don’t ring on time making you late for college.
Having just finished my first lecture (which yes I turned up late for) I was in the canteen surrounded by loads of students and classmates - the perfect place to receive an STI diagnosis over the phone.
A few weeks before, the person I’d been seeing on and off had told me that they’d started experiencing symptoms; pain when they peed, tummy aches and discharge. Having experienced NONE of this myself, I was convinced I was fine and it couldn’t be me who had given it to them but to make sure I went to the clinic for a test. That’s where I was told that many STIs can go unhidden for ages with no symptoms at all. Great.
So you’ve got a STI…what next?
The diagnosis was Chlamydia, which apparently is the most common of the STIs in young women under 25, most likely because it goes unnoticed. Although I was really worried, the person on the phone was very understanding and helpful. I was asked to come into the sexual health clinic straight away. I did of course and was given medication to take on the spot. They also gave me the opportunity to give all the contact details of people who I’d had sex with so they could let them know to come in for a test. This is done without them mentioning your name at all. (I opted to tell people myself.)
This was a great and quick service (all free on the NHS!) but I still have a few worries. Whilst it is easy to treat if caught, if left for a long-time Chlamydia can lead to risks of infertility and other long term problems. As it went undiagnosed for a while, I’m not entirely sure when I caught it.
This was a year ago and since then I’ve spoken to lots of friends who’ve been in similar situations, which has made me feel better. I have learned that there is absolutely no shame in getting diagnosed with an STI, but it has made me think seriously about how to look after my sexual health. I make sure that I always use contraception and have become more proactive in getting regular check-ups. I’ve made sure all my friends do too!
When diagnosed and treated in its early stages, Chlamydia is easy to cure. I was lucky that my infection was easy to deal with so my studies and social life wasn’t affected at all, but there are so many different ones out there, some with some really hard, life-long consequences.
Practicing safe sex
I know sometimes we might all get “caught in the moment” or think that if we use certain methods that it will be OK, but I found out that it doesn’t work like that!
I have since found out condoms are free at your local GP or sexual health clinic. There is also a scheme that means under 25s can get free condoms at certain pharmacies. You can use the NHS finder to locate the nearest outlet in your local area:
Getting advice on what works best for you
I’m no expert in contraception at all, but luckily there are plenty of experts and services across London, who are specialists in family planning and sexual health clinics. If you want to know about other forms than condoms, you can make an appointment at one of these to find out your options here:
Getting regular checks
If you have sex on a regular basis, you need to get checked on a regular basis too. TRUST ME.
I know it might sound embarrassing but it feels as normal as going to your GP about a cold. All the staff I have ever met have been really relaxed and friendly. If you don’t want to visit a clinic in person, there are also home-kits!
I think the really important thing to remember is that there is absolutely no shame in this. In fact, I’ve made sure to go every three months since my diagnosis last year just to be sure.
You can find out more information about where to go here:
Student Services staff provide a professional, confidential, and free service to UAL students. If you would like to speak to someone confidentially about any of the issues raised in this article, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.