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24 Secrets Sexual Health Nurses Will Never Tell You

Please stop putting such weird things up your bums, guys.

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1. People often get deeply embarrassed when we tell them what we do.

To the extent that we often say that we're "just a nurse" and leave it at that. Even worse, sometimes people want confidential, gross, explicit, in-depth, or gory details. These people are usually pretty weird tbh.

2. Our job really isn't for squeamish people.

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We see penises that are swollen, inflamed, split, bleeding, discoloured, covered in lumps, and/or leaking discharge. The same goes for vaginas. And yes, the various smells are often unpleasant, but you get used to it eventually.

3. You have to be totally unshockable. / Creative Commons

If a man undresses at the clinic and he's wearing lingerie, or even a nappy, you can't bat an eyelid. People will give you blow-by-blow accounts of some pretty non-vanilla sex stuff as well. You've just got to shrug and go with the flow.


5. People put some seriously weird things in their bums, urethras, and vaginas.

One injury we see quite often are cuts from broken glass, as quite a lot of people use bottles or lightbulbs during sex. And sometimes things get stuck and there's not that much we can do other than send them to hospital.

6. You'd be amazed at how long some people leave STIs before coming in to see us.

We often have to send people straight to hospital, and wonder how they've lived with their festering symptoms for so long. Women in particular sometimes don't realise how bad things have gotten, as the sores and growths are often internal.

7. We sometimes take a look at our colleagues' bits.

Usually just smear tests, though. It’s quick and easy to do as you’re already there. When you’ve been in the industry for so long it’s just another standard task.

8. Some men get erections during examinations.

This is always way more embarrassing for them than it is for us – after all, it's just a normal reaction. We often end up having to tell them it's OK and reassure them.


9. We can't help you if you aren't totally honest with us about what you've been doing and with who.

Remember when we said we're pretty much unshockable? Trust in that, and let us know your full, complete, unabridged sexual history. We just want to help.

10. We get asked some pretty daft questions.

Such as: "Why do I have herpes? All I did was grind on him." Were you naked while grinding? Yes? Well, that's why. Also: "I can't possibly be pregnant, I went on top." Some people really didn't pay attention in their school sex-ed classes.

11. Patients really open up to us.

And not just in the way you'd think: They trust us to keep their sex secrets. People cry on our shoulders about their various problems, personal issues, their loneliness and addictions, and we're there for them. We'd never tell a soul.

12. We regularly deal with people who just found out their partner has cheated on them.


Including people who have been married for decades. It's not easy to tell a crying, desolate older person that they should have an HIV test to to be on the safe side, as the word "HIV" is a pretty scary one. But we do our best to help.


13. A lot of our patients are pretty young.

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Teenagers have underage sex, which means we do deal with people who are under 16. We're constantly checking whether young people have been sexually exploited, and work with closely with agencies such as Barnados to protect them.

14. If someone is diagnosed with an STI, we can contact ex-partners anonymously on their behalf. / Creative Commons

We strongly recommend that people inform their current and past partners about any STI diagnosis so they can get tested too, but not everyone feels confident in doing that, so we offer to do it anonymously via phone or by post.

15. But some people get very angry when we call.

No one wants to receive a cold call from a sexual health clinic saying their anonymous ex-lover has an STI. But no matter how mad the person gets and however much they insist we tell them who it was, we will never name names.

16. We see the same people back with the same STIs all the time, and it can get pretty frustrating.

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We try hard not to judge, but there are always a handful of regular patients who test that to the limit. They seem to be incapable of making safe and healthy decisions, put their own and their partners' health at risk, cost us a lot of time and tons of resources, and are dismissive when we suggest making changes.


17. And you can't help but wonder what possesses some people to behave the way they do.

We encounter so many people who are married and secretly using prostitutes, or engaging in really risky behaviour. Rather than passing judgment, we just wonder internally how exhausting and complex it must be to live a lie like that.

18. Our job makes trusting our own partners a bit difficult. / Creative Commons

We'd never ever admit it to them, but it's hard to ever fully trust our girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, or husbands. We've seen way too much.

19. We have special clinics for sex workers. / Creative Commons

These are free, non-judgmental, and feature the usual range of tests as well as health promotion, advice, and informal counselling. These clinics are usually straightforward, as sex workers tend to be frank, honest, and clear with us.

20. We offer all patients at NHS clinics a free HIV test.

We do so even if they came in for another reason, as controlling the spread of HIV and related illnesses is a big part of what we do. People can live with HIV for years before having any symptoms, so regular testing is important.


21. We also offer counselling, advice, and support.

We don't just swab genitals and run tests – some clinics also offer psychosexual therapies for a range of sexual issues such as difficulties with physical discomfort during sex; erection, ejaculation, or orgasm problems; and lack of desire.

22. One of the greatest things about our job is how easy it can be to make someone better.

Some people arrive in a real state. They're nervous, have distressing symptoms, and they fear the worst. It's always nice when we can tell them that all they need is a week's worth of antibiotics. You can see the weight lift off their shoulders.

23. We get thank you cards (and gifts) more often than you might think.

It really makes our day to know that people appreciate what we do, and don't just want to forget we exist as soon as they walk out of the door.

24. But the best thing of all is when you turn someone's life around by convincing them to stay safe.

Watching someone who wasn't looking after their sexual health leave the clinic with a clear plan (and a lot of free condoms) feels like an amazing triumph. It makes all the gross stuff worth it. Almost.

This post was put together with the help of a sexual health nurse based at an NHS genitourinary medicine clinic in central London.