When you’re going for your first STI test or gynaecological exam, it’s normal to feel a bit (read: extremely) intimidated. If you’re sexually active, getting your junk checked out is not optional. That being said, panic attacks in the waiting room are not unheard of. We all remember that scene in Sex and the City where Samantha is waiting for the results of her HIV test and collapses en route to the doctor’s office: nerves are totally normal. But here’s what to keep in mind: these tests can be uncomfortable, but they’re nothing to be scared of. Women take them all the time, and like kale and jump squats, they might not always be enjoyable, but they’re good for you. So, how do you go about getting tested?
Pick a Doctor
If you’re comfortable speaking with your family doctor about reproductive and sexual health issues, that’s great: they know your history and can help you figure out your options. But for some, your GP might be great when you need a throat swab, but a little offputting when you need…other swabs. If that’s the case, check out somewhere like the Hassle Free Clinic or the Bay Centre for Birth Control run by Women’s College Hospital, or Planned Parenthood. We love these places because we’ve found the doctors to be warm and judgement-free. Let them know it’s your first time, and they’ll be sure to ease you into it.
Ask good questions
It’s always a good idea to write down a list of questions before your appointment. Are you looking to explore birth control options? Do you want to know what kind of STIs to worry about? Make notes, so you don’t get flustered when you get there. Take notes during the appointment if you like, too. Also, remember: your doctor might act rushed, because this is old news to them, but it’s new to you. Don’t get pressured into leaving without all the information you want and need. It’s your body!
Okay, it’s not going to feel awesome
Here’s the truth: these tests can be uncomfortable. During your pap smear, the doctor will get you to lay in the stirrups, and scoot your boot down to the end of the table. Then, they’ll insert the speculum. This is the part that freaks most people out: it’s big, it’s silver, it’s shiny, it basically looks like a medieval torture instrument…and it’s going inside your vageen. It’s not going to feel great, but it’s not that horrible either. Try to relax. Think of other things, laugh about it with your doctor. No need to be bashful, they’ve seen it all and then some. And remember, it will be over pretty fast. Once the speculum is inserted into your vagina, they will take a swab to retrieve cervical cells.
I think I might have a STI: HELP!
The Hassle-Free Clinic has a good list of STIs and their symptoms. They also have resources about some infections that can be mistaken for STIs, like a yeast infection. Read through all the symptoms, but if things are feeling funky down there, just get tested. It’s the easiest way to achieve peace of mind. Seriously, just don’t bother playing the oh-god-what-if-but-it’s-probably-fine-but-it-itches game.
If you do find out you have a STI, you will likely have a lot of questions for your doctor. See our above advice: write them down, and write down her or his responses. Learn everything you can. Try not to waste time feeling guilty and/or stupid: these feelings are sometimes unavoidable, but remember, STIs are common, and often symptomless. Just learn from this experience, and be as safe as possible from now on.
So, what about birth control?
Birth control, like anything to do with your body, is a big decision. There are a lot of options beyond the pill, from IUDs to Nuvarings, and all have their benefits and drawbacks. Again, the Hassle Free Clinic has a great resource to help you do some preliminary research. When you’ve discovered some options you might be into, talk to your doctor, ask tons of questions, and then pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Some things to keep in mind
Bring your health card, bring something to distract you in the waiting room (including a supportive friend or family member, if you like), and most importantly: good for you. You’re making healthy, adult decisions about your body, and you’ll seriously thank yourself for it down the road. You only get one of these things!
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