A few weeks ago, I had a distressing realisation: I keep shagging without using a condom. And that’s bad.
I vowed to get myself down to the GUM clinic ASAP.
And so, this evening, I finally paid my local clinic a visit. (Yes, it’s taken me nearly three weeks … clearly lackadaisicality is a trait of mine both in and out of the bedroom…)
It’s been a while since I had a check up, which is ridiculous: appointments are FREE, you don’t have to book, and I live less than five minutes walk away from the clinic. There’s no excuse really.
I had, however, forgotten what a bizarre experience a GUM clinic check up is. The shame. The invasive questions. The mild physical discomfort. And for some reason, I always find the whole experience darkly comical. Today was no exception: from unexpected encounters to missing veins, I feel this anecdote needs sharing….
Obviously, there is no shame in visiting the GUM clinic. Taking care of one’s sexual health is a responsible thing to do. And yet, for some reason, whenever I go for a check up I find myself checking over my shoulder before I enter the building. I speak to the receptionist in hushed tones, so as not to be overheard (despite the fact that the only potential eavesdroppers are also clinic patients, just like me…). I fill in the questionnaire in my neatest handwriting, desperate to prove myself as a respectable human being. It’s daft.
Today, however, my worst fears were realised. The unthinkable happened. All of my irrational shame suddenly intensified a thousand times over.
You guessed it.
As I sat in the waiting room, who should stroll into the clinic but M.
I’ve known M for years. We were at uni together, and then, by coincidence, ended up working together. But in all that time, I wouldn’t say our relationship has ever reached a particularly comfortable point – this surprise encounter is not something we could just laugh off like best friends would. I give him a lift to work sometimes, and the conversation is usually just that: work. To make things even worse, he is hot, and I’m not going to lie, I’ve thought about the possibility of shagging him before (pretty recently, actually).
Basically, he’s right at the top of the list of people I don’t want to bump into at the GUM clinic (along with my Dad, my boss and any of my current or ex-pupils).
I did what anyone would have done: pretended I hadn’t seen him. I stared at my phone as if it was the most fascinating thing on earth. I blushed like a bride whose dress has just ripped and she has inadvertently mooned her parents, the vicar and a whole church full of friends and relatives. I wished for the ground to swallow me up.
He left pretty sharpish (potentially because he had seen me and also had a similar panic attack and didn’t fancy making small talk with me in the waiting room). Thank god.
I’m giving him a lift to work tomorrow though. Not quite sure yet whether to acknowledge having seen him. Maybe I’ll say something vague like “how was your evening?”. Or just be bold: “Morning – how’s your dick today?”. Ha. I probably just won’t say anything…
2. Invasive questions
I know they have to ask. And I know they don’t judge. But still… nobody goes to the GUM clinic after six months of celibacy, do they? No. They go because they’ve been getting laid. Lots, probably. And those bloody questions feel like an interrogation …
Q. When did you last have sex?
A: Beginning of May …. so … six weeks ago, roughly.
Q. Was this with a man, a woman, or both?
Q: Was it with a regular partner?
A. Um… well … we had sex more than once if that counts?
Q. Well, would you say you know him?
Q. Did you have oral, anal or vaginal intercourse?
A. Oral and vaginal [fingers in the bum don’t count, right?]
Q. Did you use a condom?
A. No. [Why do you think I’m here?! For the banter?!]
Q. When was your last partner previous to this one?
A. About 2 weeks earlier.
Q. Was it with a man?
A. Oral and vaginal [a tongue in the bum doesn’t count, right?]
Q. Did you use a condom?
A. I can’t remember [No.]
Q. And when your last partner before this one?
A. Err… about a week before that…
The conversation continues like this until she thinks I have done my penance for all my promiscuity. The worst one I ever had was upon returning from a six month ‘ski’ season (aka. sex fest). I honestly thought she was gonna offer me a chastity belt after that little chat.
3. Mild physical discomfort
If you haven’t had an STI check up before, it’s pretty simple. You stick something that looks like a cotton bud in your vag, give it a wiggle, and put it in a tube. Job done. (Except where I used to live … they were still in the dark ages and insisted you had to put your feet in the stirrups and then they would have a scrape around in there themselves with some metal prong…. that was nasty).
They also do a blood test for HIV.
Now, I am fine with needles. I associate them with sweets. The thought of having blood taken doesn’t bother me one bit.
Nurse: “Hmm. I can’t seem to find your vein.”
I discovered at my last check up that the phrase: “I can’t seem to find your vein” is medical speak for “imma poke you with this needle for a few minutes and bruise the fuck out of your arm.”
Or, if you are really lucky like I was today: “imma stick this needle in your hand instead and then leave it in there for a good ten minutes, wiggling it around occasionally, complaining that you won’t bleed quickly enough.”
When sitting in the waiting room desperately trying to avoid making eye contact with M, I subconsciously started Tinder-ing. A few matches later, I suddenly came to my senses.
I am sitting in the GUM clinic waiting room…
… playing on Tinder.
Oh the irony.