NHS sexual health clinics can provide tests and treatment for many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as information and advice around contraception and unplanned pregnancies.
Key things to know
Accessing sexual health services for testing and treatment of STIs is straightforward and confidential.
At a sexual health clinic, a doctor or nurse will:
- ask you some questions about your sex life, relationships and the type of sexual partners you have,
- may ask to look at your genitals or anus,
- will tell you what tests they think you need,
Some clinics offer home testing kits for some STIs.
Alongside testing, sexual health clinics can also offer a variety of referral services for support with alcohol and drug use, mental health, gender identity and contraception. If you have any questions regarding your appointment at the sexual health clinic, you can get in touch with us for advice and support.
What services are offered at a sexual health clinic?
The services offered might differ slightly depending on the clinic you go to. Most clinics in Scotland offer some or all of the following services:
- contraception services,
- HIV testing,
- HIV PrEP prescription,
- routine STI testing (with some offering free STI self-sampling kits),
Visiting a sexual health clinic
Anyone can go to a sexual health clinic, regardless of their age, gender, identity, sexuality and whether or not they have any symptoms of an STI. Some sexual health clinics in Scotland offer drop-in services, but it is best to check if they do before going and book an appointment if needed.
When you visit a sexual health clinic, you will be asked for your name and some contact details. You don’t have to give your real name if you don’t want to, but it is important to give correct contact details as the clinic might need to contact you about your test results.
The clinic will ask how you want to receive your results. They can usually be given to you over the phone, by text, or in an unmarked letter.
You can use Sexual Health Scotland’s service finder to find a sexual health clinic in your area.
Types of questions asked
A doctor or a nurse at the sexual health clinic might ask you about your medical and sexual history.
Examples of questions you might be asked include:
- when you last had sex,
- whether you’ve had unprotected sex,
- whether you have any symptoms,
- how you think might have come into contact with an STI,
You can ask to see a female or male doctor or nurse if you prefer, but you might have to wait longer than usual for one to become available.
Privacy and confidentiality
Sexual health services use a common medical notes system called NaSH. This is a sexual health specific system, separate from your GP notes to allow for privacy around your sexual health consultations and results.
Your sexual health information held in NaSH is kept confidential. Your GP won’t be told about your visit without your permission. This is why you might be asked permission to share your results with your GP by the sexual health clinician.
Using a fake name during your appointment
Anyone accessing sexual health has the right to use a pseudonym.
If you choose to visit the sexual health clinic under a pseudonym, you should remember it and use the same pseudonym each time. That way, your care can be continued in the safest way, based on notes from your previous visits.
Having a companion with you
In line with General Medical Council guidance, you are entitled to have a companion with you during appointments at the sexual health clinics.
Sometimes clinicians may want to speak to you alone, as a safeguarding precaution, but you are within your rights to ask for a companion or partner to remain present for any part of a procedure or appointment you might find distressing and need support for.
A doctor may ask for a chaperone to be present. This is for your safety as well as theirs.
Preparing for an appointment
You might feel embarrassed or uncomfortable visiting a sexual health clinic, but there is no shame in taking care of your sexual health. The staff at sexual health clinics are used to testing for STIs and are trained to provide a non-judgmental environment. They are there to answer any questions that you might have, explain everything to you and to make you feel at ease.
There are several ways to test for an STI, depending on your symptoms and the type of sexual contact you’ve had. These may include:
- an examination of your genitals, anus, mouth and skin,
- giving a urine sample,
- having a blood sample taken,
- a swab from your urethra (the tube through which you pass urine) for people with a penis,
- a swab from your throat or bottom,
- a swab from a vagina or cervix (lower part of the womb),
- an internal examination for people with a cervix.
For more information about STI testing, check out our STI testing section.