Genitourinary medicine clinics deal with sexually transmitted infections and many other genital and sexual problems. These clinics are sometimes called ‘GUM clinics’ for short. Many GUM clinics are now integrated with family planning services and are referred to as sexual health. Sexual health services are often located in community settings rather than hospitals.
Most people are worried about attending a clinic for the first time, but they usually find the experience better than expected.
Why Go to a Genitourinary Medicine Clinic?
- Staff 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 which you may need.
- They have facilities for doing tests for all genital infections. For some conditions, you will be given a diagnosis and appropriate treatment without waiting for the results of the tests.
- You do not need a letter from your family doctor to attend a GUM clinic; you can phone the clinic yourself and make an appointment or they may advertise drop-in sessions.
- GUM clinics are very confidential. Staff may need to discuss the results of some tests with your family doctor. This is important for infectious conditions like syphilis and HIV.
What Sort of Problems Can the Clinic Help With?
You can attend a GUM/Sexual health clinic for tests if you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection, whether you have symptoms (such as a discharge) or not. You can attend the clinic to be tested for HIV and you would normally be offered testing for other blood-borne viruses including syphilis and possibly hepatitis B & C. Sometimes conditions can be diagnosed and treated before the test results come through. Most clinics provide contraception. They may also be able to help you if you are concerned about the appearance of your genitals.
Finding a GUM Clinic and Making an Appointment
There are several ways of finding your nearest clinic:
- Most services have their own website
- The telephone number is probably listed in the ‘Business and Services’ section of your phone book under ‘Genitourinary Medicine’, ‘Sexual Health’, ‘Venereal Diseases’ or ‘Sexually Transmitted Diseases’.
- You could telephone your local hospital and ask for information about the nearest genitourinary medicine clinic.
When you have located the clinic, telephone to make an appointment or ask about drop-in sessions. You do not need a doctor’s letter. When you telephone, ask for clear directions to find the clinic. GUM 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 the dates 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 are likely be taken to test 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 being seen, tell a staff member so the urine sample can be taken. Men no longer require to have uncomfortable samples taken from the urethra (pee-hole), as all test can be performed on the urine sample.
- 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 are not accurate with the truth, 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 or specialist nurse will then examine you, and will take samples for testing if required. Before taking any necessary 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 for men and sometimes for women.
- In men, additional samples may be taken from the anus and from the throat.
- In women, samples are mostly taken from the vulvovagina, and sometimes the cervix (neck of the womb at the top of the vagina), the throat and the anus. To take a sample from the cervix, a speculum is put into the vagina (like having a smear test).
In some services these samples will be examined under the microscope in the clinic looking for signs of infection. The samples will then be sent to the laboratory for further, more complicated tests. In most cases, the clinician will be able to tell you what the likely diagnosis is and give you treatment there and then. The treatment is free.
Blood samples are usually taken, after discussion with you, to test for syphilis, HIV and/or hepatitis. You may also be given an opportunity to talk to a health advisor, who will give you more information about your problem.
Worries About the Clinic – Myth Busting
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 ordinary people just like you 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 in making a diagnosis of your problem and giving you the right treatment.
The tests will be painful. For both men and women, the tests are not painful (unless you count a blood test as painful).
They will do an HIV test and I am not sure if I want one. You will be asked if you would like an HIV test. HIV is a chronic, treatable condition, and affected people may have no symptoms. If you are not sure about having a test, no one will try to persuade you although it is better to know if you have the condition so that you can be treated.
They will send a letter to my family doctor telling him/her things about my sex life that I do not want him/her to know. Any communication with your GP will not go into details about your sex life. Results will only be communicated if another person would be at risk because of your infection. If necessary, it will 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 have medical students, because they have to learn about genital problems in order to become good 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 less stressful. However, if you would prefer not to have students present just say so.
First published on: embarrassingproblems.com
Reviewed and edited by: Dr Paula Briggs
Last updated: October 2020