Going to a sexual health service

Safer Sex

Sexual Health Services

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Sexual Health Services

Learn more about sexual health services in the UK. What they are, where they are, what they do and what going for a check up or a chat at a clinic is like.

Find your nearest service here

In the UK we are pretty lucky to have free and confidential sexual health services for young people. You can get free condoms, emergency contraception, contraception, STI check-ups, pregnancy testing, impartial advice about pregnancy options, terminations of pregnancy (not usually in Northern Ireland though), counselling, advice, cervical screening, well man checks.  All free and confidential with  no prescription charges. Good eh?

It’s all for free. No charges for tests, treatment, pills, condoms or anything.

It’s all confidential. They are not allowed to tell anyone they have seen you. Even if you are under 16. Unless you or someone else are in danger.

First time worries going to a sexual health service it's okay to have worries
People worry about going to a sexual health clinic for the first time. Often it’s the first time that they’ve been to a service by themselves. There are lots of scare stories about what will happen (many of which aren’t true). Also there’s a lot of stigma around sex. Staff at these clinics are trained to be sensitive around these issues. Services for young people are particularly friendly and welcoming for young people. So try not to worry too much.

Young people clinics
going to a sexual health service young people's clinicsMost places have clinics where young people go for a range of sexual health services. They’re all called something different but usually have ‘yoof’ branding on their posters and might be called something like ‘4YP’. Inside they’ll have a radio on, probably some magazines and strategic pot plants.

They all work towards the same standards to provide friendly and safe services for young people (this is called ‘You’re Welcome’). They are usually open after school or at weekends. The staff are trained to work with young people, to make them feel at ease, to take their time with them. Often they are tested by young people (as ‘mystery shoppers’) to see how good they are.

Brook is a organisation that offers free and confidential sexual health services to young people under 25. They are excellent. There are Brook centres around the country so there may be one near you. www.brook.org.uk

Condoms schemes
If you just want condoms you don’t have to go to a clinic. Lots of places have local condom distribution schemes or C-Card schemes where you can easily get hold of some from lots of different places like youth clubs, advice centres and even pharmacists.

You can buy condoms, emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and even get home testing kits for STIs from pharmacists – also known as chemists. However sometimes they can provide these things for free to young people. They normally have a little private room so you can have a chat too. So it’s worth checking out to see if there’s one near you doing this kind of thing.

Adult clinics and GPs
If there isn’t a young people’s clinic near you then you can still go to an ‘adult’ clinic. They can be found in local clinics and at hospitals. Some do more of a contraception and pregnancy testing thing and others offer check ups for sex infections. However in many areas, clinics are starting to offer all services in one place.

Lots of people go to their GP for sexual health services because it’s convenient and local. Others don’t like to because they worry about their family finding out. GPs have to offer confidential services to their patients, even those under 16, so you should be able to go to them if you want to.

going to a sexual health service everything is free and confidentialAll services are absolutely free. There are no prescription charges for treatment, contraception, condoms anything. Emergency contraception is free from clinics but can be purchased from pharmacists for about £25 (though many give it away for free to teens, so do ask).

All services are confidential – this means that they aren’t allowed to tell anyone that they’ve seen you. At the service I work at, I could get sacked if I do. Services take confidentiality very very seriously (if people think they blab about them then they might not come) and this is true even if someone is under 16. The only time they have to tell someone they’ve seen you is if they think you are at really serious risk of harm.

They don’t tell your parents

Young people are encouraged to speak to their parents/carer or trusted adult in their lives. Often young people attend services with this person. Clinics can give under 16s treatment without their parents knowledge if it is in the best interests of the young person and they couldn’t be persuaded to tell their parent.

High quality service
Services want you to have a good visit. This is because they value you but also because they want your return custom, they want you to tell your friends how cool they were and they want to continue seeing, educating and treating you. Lots of clinics ask for your feedback

If you’re not happy with your visit please say so. Negative feedback helps to improve the service.

When you first arrive
going to a sexual health service when you arriveWhen you arrive you don’t have to tell people what you want, they usually have a check list of services available which you can tick and hand back to the reception. Depending on the service you go to you will probably have to give some details about you. This might include your name and address, usually you are given a check box to say if you don’t want people to contact you at home (they very rarely write to you, they like to contact you via your mobile if you have one).

There will be a wait (up to 30/60 mins) so make sure your phone’s charged so you aren’t bored – there will usually be magazines and music. Then a member of staff will ask to see you privately, where they’ll explain who they are and what they do.

STI check ups
going to a sexual health service sti check ups
If you are going for an STI check-up you will usually be asked some personal questions about the kind of sex that you’ve had and with whom – this is so they can work out if you need a check-up and which ones they recommend. You will never be forced into having any test and everything will be explained in advance.

Tests include a urine test (this is for the most common infections and it’s all some people need to do – don’t pee an hour before going to the clinic) or a vaginal swab (this is like a large cotton bud which is inserted into the vagina, you can do this yourself if you like). Rarely a very small swab (much much smaller than a cotton bud) can be taken from the tip of the penis, but this is optional. Blood tests (sometimes just a finger prick) are available to check for some infections and also a doctor might ask (politely) to look at your genitals. You’ll be told when your results will be available and how you can find them out. All treatments are free.

If you are wanting to get contraception you will usually chat to a reproductive sexual health nurse. They will ask you various questions about your health and will take blood pressure tests and find out your height and weight. They will advise you on what contraception you can use and can recommend which they think might suit you the best. They will also teach you about how to use your new contraception.

Pregnancy test and choices
going to a sexual health service getting a pregnancy test
Worried that you are pregnant? If you’ve had penis in vagina sex and your period is a couple of weeks late (periods are often late for other reasons) then you can get a free pregnancy test from a sexual health clinic (though you can also buy very accurate tests from a pharmacist). If you are pregnant it can be a shock.

Staff at clinics I’ve referred to here are trained to support you and to talk you through your three choices: continue the pregnancy, fostering/adoption or abortion (ending the pregnancy, which is legal and safe before 24 weeks). These are totally your choices and you won’t be pressured into any of them. If you decide on continuing with pregnancy you can be referred for ante-natal care. If you decide on abortion you can be referred for an appointment at an abortion clinic.

Some places offer free pregnancy tests but don’t give impartial advice – these are anti-choice (or ‘pro-life’) centres who don’t agree that women should be able to choose abortion. These centres often have the word ‘life’ in their name and I think they should be avoided.

Someone to chat to
Do you just want to chat to someone or get advice or information about sex and relationships you can still go to a clinic? You could see a sex educator, a counsellor (Brook services usually have trained counsellors you can chat to) or a health adviser.

0 Can you recommend a service?


Here is an example of a young people’s clinic in action. It’s a great project called KISS in Uxbridge, London (or Middlesex, I forget which). It stars Average Joe and Condom Man (and me, I’m on reception).

© Justin Hancock, 2015

Title: Sexual Health Services

Category: Safer Sex

Tags: Condoms Contraception Emergency Pill Services STIs

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4 Comment(s)

  • Gwen Moye says:

    Our young people need all the the information as possible regarding sex.
    Thanks for helping educate our young people.

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