There's a good chance I'm going to have sex this weekend, which is awesome in both sense of the word. In the colloquial sense, it's awesome because I like the idea of having sex and if things go well it should be enjoyable. In the other sense, it's awesome because it's a huge scary big deal that leaves me rather nervous. My potential partner is someone I care lots about and very much don't want to disappoint or hurt, which cranks up the nerves still further.
Left to my own devices, I'd probably ignore all possibility of sex, drink a couple of cans of cider, and "get carried away", which is a great way to suppress nerves beforehand at the price of hugely increasing the probability of horrendous fall-out. But in a poly relationship, I'm not exactly left to my own devices: I owe it to Lucy to, at the very least, practice safe sex, which means at least some advance planning.
I'm new to the whole "having sex with women" thing, and school sex ed never so much as touched on it. I know there are things called dental dams, which are associated with queerness even though oral sex is highly encouraged in straight encounters as well. That and the fact that strap-ons are like penises that you can sterilise in boiling water is about the limit of my knowledge. At this point, I came up with the bright idea of going to the sexual health clinic for information and possibly also dams, which I'm not sure I could find in shops. And since I felt awkward about saying, "Hello, can I have some dental dams, thanks, bye," I decided to kill several birds with one stone and get a full STI screening.
So I made an appointment at the clinic and went along, worrying about the extreme likelihood of being misgendered as a distraction from the vaguer fears that my attempts to act grown-up were a transparent fraud. The nurse introduced herself and asked what I'd come for, and I explained that I was starting a new relationship and wanted to start out fresh with an STI screening. She asked some questions about my health both general and sexual: I was pleased to declare myself seven years smoke-free, disappointed to admit that my planned tattoo has yet to grace my skin, and too ashamed to say that my last sexual encounter took place on an East Midlands train.
Another question was whether I'd ever been pregnant. The answer is yes, once; to the follow-up, I described xCLP in shamefaced clinical terms as a "live birth". And where was I in my menstrual cycle? Absolutely no idea, but I have an unpleasant feeling I'm due some time soon. These formalities having been done, we went through to the "Female Examination Room". Now, I understand that genital configurations have a bearing on what STIs a person is vulnerable to and on the mechanics of the sample collection process. But that doesn't mean I have to like having my body described as female.
The first task in the examination room was a swabbing of my cervix. Since I gave birth, that's been downgraded from "screaming agony" to "teeth-gritting discomfort", which is something. Then I had my throat swabbed, based on my last sex being unprotected oral. Finally, in a different room, the nurse drew some blood to test for infections I almost certainly don't have - the Blood and Transplant Service would have let me know - but it's nice to be sure.
We returned to the first consulting room to discuss how I wanted to receive my results, and I finally asked for advice about dental dams. The clinic leaflet had only mentioned the option of free condoms, but it turns out free dental dams are available too, which was neat. The nurse explained how to use one, assured me that there was an instruction leaflet in each packet, and added a few tips on care of sex toys for good measure. Throughout the process she was friendly, and didn't pass any judgments on either my chaotic sexual history or my nervous babbling.
It's good that the clinic offers dental dams and advice on safer sex beyond PIV, but I do wish they made it more obvious they could do that. One of the many contraception posters explained earnestly that every time you have sex without using contraception there's a possibility you'll get pregnant, not mentioning that some sexual partners don't produce sperm and some forms of sex don't lead to pregnancy. A little thing, but it bugs me. Likewise the cissexist language, although I pretty much knew I should expect that. All in all, a lot better than it could have been in the heart of conservative country, and I felt a lot better for having been a little bit responsible.