I sit with my Mam over a cup of coffee. “I’m getting tested for STD’s,” I bluntly announce before lifting the cup to my mouth and taking a sip. I watch for her reaction, worried she’ll be annoyed at me. It’s part of a new effort I’m making to be more honest and upfront with my Mam, brought on by the guilt of how dishonest and sneaky I was as a teen.
She looks a little surprised, which is to be expected, but she remains composed. “Do you…feel like you need to?” She enquires, sounding a little bit anxious. “No, no,” I assure her, which isn’t necessarily the truth. I mentioned in a previous post how my first time was foolishly unprotected and recently that’s been weighing on my mind. Even though I have no symptoms or anything, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
You might be wondering why I decided to twist the truth when I just mentioned that I’m making more of an effort to be honest with my mother, but the answer I give her isn’t untrue. “I think taking care of your sexual health is important. I’m quite conscious of my health in every other aspect so I’d like to get into a good routine around my sexual health also.”
This is true. Even though I don’t intend to have any more slip ups when it comes to protection, I do intend to get tested regularly, because you never really know do you? My Mam nods and agrees with me. I’m happy to have her approval. I’m also happy that she recognises that there should be no shame when it comes to your sexual health.
A few days later, I’m getting up early and head into town to a popup sexual health clinic. I’ve googled popup clinics in Dublin and I found that there were a number of regular free ones. I chose one for men who have sex with men because technically it’s the case and because the location was convenient for me.
I’m feeling kind of apprehensive, but just because I don’t know what to expect. I’m lead into a room where I sit with some awkward looking boys. No one looks up from their phones as a large pile of condoms and pamphlets sits on the table between all of us. I take out my phone but I can never get internet in this part of the city.
After a few minutes of sitting idle, I decide to wander the large room we’ve found ourselves in. I scour the bookshelves, looking for (I’m not going to lie) my own book. Do you think I’m self-obsessed? In my defence, it was an LGBT+ centre. I was unsuccessful in my search but I actually didn’t look very hard.
As I pass the little untouched table I reach out and scoop up a handful of condoms, dropping them into my handbag. A few people glance at me. I can tell they’re only sorry they haven’t gotten the courage to do it themselves.
Eventually my name is called and I’m brought into a room where I’m asked some simple questions. When asked whether I’ve ever had unprotected sex, I fear the reaction of the doctor but his facial expression doesn’t change. He simply writes a note on his pad and hands me a little box. He talks me through each tool that’s in the kit, telling me how to use it.
I go to the bathroom, where I pee in a cup, apply a rectal swab (weird, but not as weird as you’d think) and package them up to hand back to the doctor (in their box). It’s all very neat and hassle-free really. I’m then informed that I need to do a blood test, which I’m less than impressed with.
I despise blood tests. The very idea of inserting a needle into your arm to draw blood makes me feel queasy. In fact I just had to smooth out my face after realising that I was intensely frowning while simply typing that sentence. The irony of all of this is that I have to regularly get blood tests due to my transition, meaning I’ve learned how to distract myself enough to get the job done.
I sit with a lovely nurse and chat to her about the clinic while she draws my blood. She tells me they’ve had an extremely busy day and I’m glad to hear it. I had thought that Ireland’s awful sex education policies, particularly around LGBT+ youths might result in a nation of people lacking in an awareness of their sexual health, but it seems that may not be the case.
When the blood test is finished, I leave happy with the experience and happy with my free condoms. I head out into the street, ready to get back into bed after my early start (I know, I’m pathetic). Two weeks later I get a text on my phone giving me the all clear. I’m relieved but not really that surprised. I didn’t expect anything less.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into the experience, but I was extremely happy with every aspect of it. I’ll always urge young people (and anyone else) to begin taking care of their sexual health the minute they become active. It’s not easy when you live in Ireland, but it’s definitely worth it.
Read about the first time my Mam took me shopping in the women’s section here.
Listen to a conversation with my Mam about divorce here: