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How to get help with your sexual health problems

Many people, especially when they are younger, find it difficult to ask for help with a sexual health problem.

It’s understandable to feel awkward as you explain to your doctor that your penis hurts because you rubbed toothpaste on it to make sex last longer or that your brilliant idea of putting garlic cloves inside your vagina to cure a yeast infection backfired (don’t – on both counts).

Whether you want to ask a medical professional about unusual bleeding or pain after sex, are worried that you might have an STI or urgently need assistance with removing a light bulb from your rectum, rest assured that they have heard and seen it all before.

So, you have a problem and you need help – but where should you go?

What to do if you have unusual physical symptoms

Is there a funky smell down there? Does it burn when you pee? Are your genitals itching so much it feels like they’re on fire?

You probably know what we’re going to say: go and see your local GP. Most have drop-in hours every week dedicated to sexual health concerns, but it tends to get very busy so it is recommended to get there early.

If you can’t wait for an appointment or the drop-in hours don’t suit your schedule, swing by a walk-in centre or sexual health clinic instead.

As always, if you are seriously ill or injured, call 999 or go to the hospital straight away.

What to do if you need to get an STI test

If you have had unprotected sex – and it wasn’t with a trusted partner who you know is clean – get an STI test.

Make an appointment at a sexual health or Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic by calling ahead or go to a drop-in. If you don’t make an appointment you could be waiting for hours and it’s not guaranteed that you will be seen.

Your visit is completely confidential, regardless of how old you are, and it’s free. You will be asked some basic questions, and the nurse or doctor will explain how the results will be sent to you (phone, text, mail). If the results are positive for an STI, you will be asked to come in for treatment.

Some people feel ashamed or embarrassed to have contracted an STI – try not to. It is very common; 420,000 STI cases were diagnosed in 2017 alone, according to Public Health England, so you are most definitely not the first or only person to have gotten one.

The most important thing is that you get tested, so that you can’t pass it on to other people and so that you get treatment.

If you choose to visit your GP instead of a sexual health clinic, they may give you a self-test kit to take home and bring back at a later point for testing.

You can also buy a self-test kit in the pharmacy or online, but the latter comes with risks. Always make sure that the kit is sealed when it arrives and that it has a CE quality assurance mark, before using it.

What to do if you have an unwanted pregnancy

One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime – you are not alone.

If you want to terminate your pregnancy or want to talk through your options before making a final decision, there are many services you can turn to.

Some women find it easier to go to a clinic that deals specifically with abortions, as opposed to visiting their GP.

When you contact an abortion provider such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) or Marie Stopes UK to make an appointment, they will ask you a few basic questions before referring you to a nearby clinic or booking you in directly, depending on what you prefer.

You can also go to a contraception or family planning clinic, as well as a GUM clinic and ask for a referral to abortion services.

Having an abortion can be tough on both the body and the mind, which is why after the termination you will be offered counselling options by service you have chosen.

The people who work in these clinics have been trained to deal with these situations and will approach you without judgement, but if at any point you feel uncomfortable you can ask for another doctor, nurse or medical professional to help you.

Abortions in the UK are free with the exception of private services, where a termination can cost several hundred pounds (or more).

What to do if you just want to talk to someone

Sexual health and GUM clinics are great at tackling all and any conversations around sexual health, including questions about contraception and STIs but also general advice and information about sex.

There are male and female-specific clinics, as well as a ones that welcome all genders.

You can ask your GP for help too, but if you’re after a quick chat, you may find it more useful to turn to a clinic.

There is also a wealth of information online, but if it’s medical advice you’re after, stick to trusted sources.

Alternatively, if it’s not a medical concern, consider if there is someone in your life that you trust enough to ask for advice – a family member or a close friend.

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