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Visiting a sexual health clinic: Rachel’s story 

Rachel, 21, talks about how her first experience in a sexual health clinic wasn’t the greatest, but that it taught her a lot of lessons.

Minus a week of biology lessons, my primary and secondary school sex education was very sparse. However, one thing that my secondary school did teach us was the location of our nearest sexual health clinic. So, when I experienced a condom breakage on my second time having penetrative penis-in-vagina sex, I knew exactly where to go.  

My school had shown us videos created by our local sexual health clinic, about their location and what to expect when you enter the clinic, so I didn’t feel too nervous about accessing their services.  

I planned my visit my local sexual health clinic for the next morning. Walking in, I followed the signs and made my way to the welcome desk, where I made sure to clearly state my reason for being there “I need the morning after pill”. 

The receptionist asked me to sit down in the waiting room and wait for a clinician to come and collect me, and before I knew it the clinician called my name and told me to follow them into a private room, requesting that my partner should wait in the reception.  

But as fast as my name had been called, it seemed to me that the clinician had decided about what method I should take. The clinician advised that I got the IUD as my form of emergency contraception, reiterating to me numerous times that this was the most effective form of emergency contraception, and it should be my choice. As I attempted to explain my situation to the clinician, I became more unsettled being in an environment I hadn’t been in before, experiencing a situation for the first time.  

My response to those emotions meant that advocating for myself became more challenging, and I started following the advice of the clinician instead of following my own judgement.  

I went into the clinic expecting that I would be given a consultation for the emergency contraceptive pill and be provided with it after they had ensured it was suitable for me to take. Being offered an IUD on that day was not something I expected, but because of the way the first clinician had encouraged that this was the most suitable method for me, I felt that I had to go ahead with it. I can’t help but feel that if I’d had better Relationships and Sex Education at school then I would have been far better prepared for this experience, and gone in equipped with information about my options. 

After our chat, the first clinician took me into the procedure room and introduced me to the person who would be carrying out the IUD insertion. It wasn’t until the second clinician talked me through the procedure right before and partly during the procedure that I was aware of the details of what I was getting in for. I remember her making sure to tell me that if I wanted to stop at any point or ask any questions, that there was time and space for me to do so. So, when they had trouble inserting the speculum into my vagina and I became distressed, I spoke out, “can we stop the procedure please?”. 

After addressing my distress with the second clinician, they listened carefully to my situation and anxieties about going ahead with the IUD, without any judgement or bias.  

I told them that up until this point, I had struggled with using tampons and had only had penetrative sex twice, so my body wasn’t comfortable with inserting things into my vagina. The second clinician knew straight away that an IUD was not suitable for my situation and assured me that I wasn’t making the wrong decision by not going ahead with the procedure. They talked me through the differences between the emergency contraception pill, IUD, and IUS, allowing me to make an informed decision about what one I thought was best for me while having the support of their health expertise. In the end, I chose to get the emergency contraceptive pill. Although the IUD may have been the most effective form of emergency contraception that I could have gotten, it was not the most suitable for my body at that time. 

As well as providing me with the emergency contraceptive pill, the second clinician arranged a contraceptive plan with me and supplied me with a three-month supply of the contraceptive pill. She chatted to me like a friend and helped me to navigate the situation and produce an outcome that was best suited to me. The second clinician supported me with the tools I required at that moment and prepared me for any situation I may have in the future.  

Having the clinician speak to me in such a welcoming and approachable tone, while keeping everything professional and educational, is something I will never forget.  

They taught me how to advocate for myself, my sexual health, and my body, teaching me how to make informed decisions based on knowledge and education, under my own consent. I learned to stand up for myself in circumstances which put me at unease, and to not be afraid to take things at my own pace, on my own terms, when I am the subject of the situation.  

I proved to myself that I could break the barrier of sexual stigma after I took the emergency contraceptive pill, making sure to reiterate to myself that it is not shameful to require emergency contraception, to access sexual health services when you need them and having one bad incident will not dictate how my future visits will be. I know from this experience that whenever I require it, I am confident enough to access sexual health services, whether that be in a clinic, via at home services or through online information from reliable sources, such as the NHS website or Brook.  

I also spoke openly about my full experience to my friends, building up resistance to stigma in not allowing it to prevail my thoughts. This also opened the conversation between my peers and me, where we could discuss anything that we were too scared to tell other people and brought comfort between us in knowing we could ask for help when we needed it. I broke the barrier that my school sex education had built for me and my peers, I made sure I was educated on the things they failed to teach me, and advocate for others to have access to the answers they had been denied. My first experience in a sexual health clinic wasn’t the greatest, but it taught me a lot of lessons.  

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