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Visiting the clinic

Genitourinary medicine clinics deal with sexually transmitted infections and many other genital and sexual problems. These clinics are sometimes called ‘GU clinics’ for short

Most people are worried about attending a clinic for the first time, but they usually find it totally fine.

Why go to a genitourinary medicine clinic?

  • Staff at genitourinary medicine clinics are specially trained and experienced in genital problems. They also have a reputation for being kind, sympathetic and non-judgmental.
  • As well as doctors and nurses, genitourinary medicine clinics usually have special counsellors ('health advisors') who can help you with worries, and give you additional information you may need.
  • Genitourinary medicine clinics have facilities for doing tests for all genital infections. For many tests, they will be able to give you the results straight away, and the appropriate treatment.
  • You do not need a letter from your family doctor to attend a genitourinary medicine clinic you simply phone the clinic and make an appointment.
  • Genitourinary medicine clinics are very confidential. They will ask if they can send the result of your tests to your family doctor, but if you refuse, they will not do so.

What sort of problems can the clinic help with?

 You can attend a genitourinary medicine clinics for tests if you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection, whether or not you have symptoms (such as a discharge). You can attend the clinic to be tested for HIV. The clinic could also help you if you think something is wrong with the shape or appearance of your genitals.

Finding a genitourinary medicine clinic and making an appointment

There are several ways of finding your nearest clinic.
  • The telephone number is probably listed in the 'Business and Services' section of your 'phone book under 'Venereal Diseases' or 'Sexually Transmitted Diseases' or 'Sexual Health'.
  • You could telephone your local hospital and ask for information about the nearest genitourinary medicine clinic.
  • For people in the UK, look at the 'Condom Essential Wear' website which has a section on 'Where to get help' that lists your nearest clinic.

When you have located the clinic, telephone to make an appointment. You do not need a doctor's letter. When you telephone, ask for clear directions to find the clinic genitourinary medicine clinics are often tucked away and difficult to find!

Before attending the clinic

  • Make sure you know where the clinic is, and leave plenty of time to get there.
  • If it is your first appointment, allow at least an hour and a half.
  • Women should work out the date of their last menstrual period and when they last had a smear test, and jot them down you will probably be asked for this information.
  • Especially for a first appointment, men should try not to pass urine for 2 hours beforehand. This is because samples may be taken for infection at the urethra (pee-hole), and if you have passed urine recently, the evidence could be washed away so the test might be inaccurate. If you are in the waiting room and feel you must pass urine before seeing the doctor, tell a nurse so the urine sample can be taken.
  • Switch off your mobile phone.
  • Resolve to be completely honest. The questions you will be asked are simply to help make an accurate diagnosis. If you fib even slightly, because of embarrassment, it will be less easy for the doctor to diagnose and treat your problem.

What happens at the clinic

If it is your first visit, you will see a doctor or a specialist nurse. The doctor or nurse will talk to you in private, and will ask you about your symptoms (if any), your recent sexual contacts and various medical questions. The doctor will then examine you, and then the doctor or nurse will take samples for testing. Before taking the samples, the doctor or nurse will talk to you about them, and make sure that you are happy for them to be taken.
  • A urine sample is always needed.
  • In men, samples are usually taken from the opening of the urethra, from the anus and from the throat.
  • In women, samples are usually taken from the vagina, the cervix (neck of the womb at the top of the vagina), throat and sometimes the anus. To take a sample from the cervix, a speculum is put into the vagina (like having a smear).

All these samples will be examined under the microscope in the clinic by an expert technician, who will look for signs of infection. The samples will then be sent to the laboratory for further, more complicated tests. In most cases, the doctor will be able to tell you what is wrong, and give you treatment there and then. The treatment is free..

Blood samples are usually taken, after discussion with you, to test for syphilis and/or hepatitis. If you wish, the clinic can also test you for HIV. You will also be given an opportunity to talk to the counsellor ('health advisor'), who will give you more information about your problem.

Worries about the clinic

It will be embarrassing. Genitourinary medicine clinics are not at all embarrassing. The staff deal with genital problems all the time it is their job. To them, the genital area is just an ordinary part of the body.
The waiting room will be full of seedy people. The other people in the waiting room are just like you ordinary people who are worried and trying to sort a problem out.
I do not want to talk about my sex life. They will think I have had too many partners. The staff are not at all judgmental about people's lifestyles. They are more interested making a diagnosis of your problem, and giving you the right treatment.
The tests will be painful. For women, the tests are not painful (unless you count a blood test as painful). For men, taking the sample from the opening of the urethra ('peehole') is uncomfortable, but it takes only a moment.
They will do an HIV test and I’m not sure if I want one. You will probably be asked if you would like an HIV test, and it will be explained to you properly. If you are not sure, no one will try to persuade you you can always go back and have it done another time.
They will send a letter to my family doctor telling him/her things about my sex life that I don’t want him/her to know. The clinic will ask you if you want the results of tests to be sent to your family doctor. Often this is a sensible thing to agree to, but if you do not wish it, they will not do so. The letter will not go into details about your sex life it will probably be a short letter explaining the results. If you are worried, ask the doctor to tell you what information will be in the letter.
There will be medical students there. Clinics often do have medical students, because they have to learn about genital problems in order to become useful doctors. There will be one or two, not a huge group. They are bound by the same rules of confidentiality as everyone else in the clinic. The students are usually exceptionally sympathetic to people attending sexual health clinics, and may in fact make your visit nicer. However, if you would prefer not to have students there just say so.