Friday, July 8, 2011

Avi Get's Tested

While visiting an Amsterdam leather sex shop (you know, for research), I came across this very lovely sign.

While I was staring at the poster, the shop manager asked me nonchalantly, "Would you like to get tested?" I said sure. There's not many times that one is offered free full STI screening, especially in the middle of a sex shop in Amsterdam. It would be silly of me as a sex educator and enthusiast to say no. That and I was super curious what would happen.

First a highly pierced man came down the stairs leading above the shop to ask if I wanted some soda. Sure, why not? Then he led me up two flights of steep stairs, which is where I started to get a little nervous. Testing at a sex shop? How legit is this going to be? At the University I attended as an undergraduate we offered HIV test mouth swabs, which is what I assumed would be happening at this free testing. I was lead to the upper floor, which was a very spacious flat with a large desk and two very friendly nurses. The male nurse introduced himself and then his female associate, welcoming me to their testing facility. They work through the Amsterdam STD Clinic they do STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) counseling and testing. Their particular work is setting up testing areas through out the city where they can give free screenings to those who want it. Specifically, the gay male community here, which is rather large. Amsterdam is a very sexually liberal city, where the male gay community throws naked parties and other wildly themed raves, but they are not always safer sex friendly. Bath houses are also commonly used for male interactions, and in turn, the STI/STD rates in the area are extremely high.

The GGD Amsterdam (the clinic) is testing out this new idea, where the nurses set up shop in places were sexually active people go, offering full screenings to anyone. The shop where I was at was one of their locations, where they do testing on Fridays. They also go to bath houses/saunas and are currently trying to get access to clubs. All testing is free, anonymous, and they give you the results in a week. They test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, HIV, HPV, syphilis, and herpes. This is the most all inclusive free testing I have ever encountered. While the nurses were setting up the test, I was informed that they were going to take blood (sterile environment, I checked all the equipment) and needed a self administered vaginal and anal swab (for men they do self taken anal swabs and a urine test). I like that they have you do your own swabs, so there is no physical contact between you and the nurses. Though the nurses are professionals, this self swabbing is important for comfort, especially since this testing site is located in an unusual spot and I personally would be reluctant to let a stranger above a sex shop poke around my bits.

After answering some questions about my medical history, they started with a check list of my sexual history. They asked if I had experience with M2M (men who have sex with men) and if I used protection and how many partners I had within the last six months. Through the questions I deduced that they usually get male clients, which they chuckled and confirmed. I was their first female client since they started testing. After finishing my questions, they put on a tourniquet and tried to find a vain. Apparently I have hard vains to find, because both of them had to look over my arm for one. The woman informed me she was going to hit my arm to get a vain to pop up, and informs me with a smile that she promises she won't hit me like they do downstairs. I like health workers with a sense of humor. I smiled and told her I consented, and after a few pats, my veins decided to cooperate. After they finished draining me they handed me two long swabs and viles marked "A" and "V" (guess which holes they were marked for).

I am so in love with this idea of heath practitioners going out into the community and offering helpful services. I was so happy to find competent and all informative sex educators who were really passionate about helping others, even if it involved sitting around above a sex shop for hours waiting for someone to show up. They were shocked to learn that this type of screening was not common nor free in America, and that STD education was not offered to everyone. They asked me why I would want to work in sex education in a country that does not support me. I told them that that is exactly why I do my kind of work, because I want to fight for the health services that I believe people should already have, like they do in the Netherlands.

So much more to learn, only three weeks left here.

Here is some art I found in a local coffee shop

No comments:

Post a Comment