Q: I just started having sex, and I'm already hooking up with two people. I know I should go to a doctor, but I'm worried they will judge me. I'm genderqueer, do they need to know that? Does getting tested hurt? What are they going to ask me? Thanks! L.C.
A: Welcome to the world of sex with others! First off, it's wonderful that you are already thinking about your health and safety as part of your sexuality. Taking care of your body by getting tested, using protection, and getting on birth control if needed, shows a high standard of respect – for yourself and your partners - which is crucial for physical and relationship well-being.
To answer your first question, because many providers sorely lack knowledge on queer health, it might take a few tries to find the provider that is best for you. Just like we usually date a few people before we find someone we really like, we might have to try to a few doctors before we find the right one. It IS possible to find a doctor that uses the same vocabulary for your body parts as you do, and does not ask unnecessary questions about your gender identity or sexual activities! However, if you find yourself in a situation that is less than ideal, it is ok to leave and find another provider. It is also ok to stay with that provider, state what you want out of your appointment, and ask enough questions that you know you are getting the testing you need. Judgment and shame are the last things we need to feel when trying to stay healthy and be in control of our sex lives. Personally, I have heard great things from genderqueer people who have used the Family Planning clinics in Rockland, Lewiston, Damariscotta and Waterville, although I'm sure great providers are not limited to these locations.
While you do not have to explain the details of your gender identity, it is important that you feel comfortable talking to your doctor about what you call your own body parts, what kind of sex you are having, how many people you are having it with, and what your needs for testing and birth control are. Basically, if you are putting any part of your body into someone else's body, or if someone else is putting body parts into your body, your provider needs to know. It is important for your doctor to know if you are able to get pregnant and having sex that could lead to pregnancy. If you are interacting with someone else's body fluids – besides saliva – let the provider know. (Body fluids are things like semen, blood, and vaginal fluid. Basically, if it warm, wet, and someone else's, let your doctor know.) If these conversations feel awkward or embarrassing for you, feel free to bring a friend or write your questions down before you get into the clinic. Many places have questionnaires for a new patient to answer before seeing the doctor, and that is a good place to write your gender identity, your sexual identity, number of partners and any questions you have.
Some questions to ask of yourself before setting up an appointment: Does the gender of the provider you are seeing matter to you? Do you want to see a new person or a provider you have seen before? Do you want to see someone in the town you live in or go where no one knows you? If you are worried about money, all Family Planning clinics in the state of Maine offer a sliding-fee scale, which means they base payment on your income. If you don't have an income, and you do not want your parents to know you are going to a clinic, your visit can be free! All medical providers are legally sworn to confidentiality, unless someone is physically in danger or under the age of 13.
Most of the common sexually transmitted infections (S.T.I.'s) only require a urine test – meaning you just pee in a cup. Pregnancy testing is also a urine test. Some tests such as H.I.V. and Hepatitis are done by a finger prick and a very few rare ones are done by blood draw. Some of these have alternatives to taking blood as well, so talk to your provider about other options if you are uncomfortable around needles. Unless you having pain, unusual discharge, bumps, cuts, or blisters, the provider does not even need to do an exam.
Remember that sex should be fun, and the less you have to worry about infections and pregnancy, the more fun you can have! While queer sex can be more complicated, keeping ourselves safe by using protection and getting tested shows maturity, self-respect and care for your partners - no matter gender or sexual identity! Have fun and stay safe!
Do you have experiences talking about sex and gender with your medical provider? Any further questions about this topic? Let's keep talking about in the comment section below!