It definitely helped that the incredibly rare light of the sun blessed London this past weekend, but I expected a more anxious experience when visiting Dean Street Express on Saturday.
Express is the relatively new sister to Dean Street’s sexual health clinic, an establishment run by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Don’t confuse it with the Pizza Express on Dean Street, that could get awkward.
The last time I went for a sexual health checkup, I spent half a day in a room the 80s forgot, staring down at the floor in shame until my number was called out. I was then poked, prodded, and had a series of mortifyingly embarrassing questions asked of me by someone who looked a little bit like my mum. I’ve never heard the word rimming be used so unsexily.
I can’t fault them though, they were trying their best and providing a service which quite frankly is at the bottom of everyone’s priorities. Until they need it, of course. However, it didn’t fill me with the desire to return on a regular basis. I have always been careful, but I have also been single, and getting tested every six months on a regular basis isn’t exactly the worst idea.
So here I am in a monogamous long-term relationship and for reasons that should be obvious we both decided to sensibly get tested together before making a life change that should make trips to Boots a little lighter.
The first thing we did was check out the clinic website, which put both our minds at rest. I was particularly happy with the “express” part. We are both prone to overworrying. Last time I had to wait a week for my results, then spend another four hours in the waiting room before being given a lecture on being “tossed off” I still don’t quite understand. Dean Street Express promised results sent straight to your phone in six hours.
We’d walked past the place so many times, but we couldn’t quite believe we had never noticed it. A discreet neon sign and frosted swirling patterns on the glass appropiately reminiscent of Keith Haring made the front look like a club, or the offices of some trendy design magazine.
Once inside we were greeted warmly by the receptionist, and asked if we had been before. We were directed to iPads moulded into desks, everything futuristically white and orange with swirls of Keith Haring on the ceiling. Clubby music played while we typed in our details, the minutia of my recent sexual history confided solely to the silent tablet and not some matronly Welshwoman.
When finished, we were both handed a discreet blue card to make future visits quicker, and a plastic tube with two swabs and a vial. I’ll leave where the swabs go to your imagination, but the polite man explained everything in simple terms without a hint of judgement and condescencion.
Joining the queue to the toilets felt a little bit like waiting to try clothes on in Urban Outfitters, and although everyone was understandably nervous/terribly quiet, it never felt like I was doing the worst thing in the world while God wagged his finger at me. After all, this was the sensible option, the grown-up option. I was taking responsibility for not only my health and wellbeing, but my partner’s too. GP clinics could learn a lot from Dean Street Express.
Once inside the toilet, which was essentially a small room with a toilet, sink and mirror, you were instructed by another iPad on what to do. I can imagine getting your swabs mixed up can’t be pleasant. You are then instructed to put everything into the tube, and pop it into a cylinder that magically takes your tube away to be tested.
You then follow the arrow downstairs to a waiting room so you can have a blood test, passing the glass-fronted lab where a gloved nurse conducts tests on samples like some trendy gastropub hospital. You can treat yourself to sweets and coffee while you read a complimentary copy of Tatler (or Boyz if you’re so inclined) and sit in cushioned seats until your name is called out.
An extremely lovely nurse called out my name and I was ushered into a room, asked my birth date and name, and what options I had to get tested. There’s a HIV instant test that is extremely sensitive, so it can result in a false positive, or a blood test that also tests you for syphillis that takes six hours. I opted for the blood test, which I hardly noticed while the nurse asked me what I did and if I had anything planned for the weekend. All done, cotton wool and a plaster, goodbye and have a lovely weekend.
Once outside, I felt great. We’d been made to feel so at ease there wasn’t even that unfathomed anxiety about what the test results could be. Practically three hours later, our phones beeped with all the results saying we’d both tested negative.
I never thought I’d have a good experience from a sexual health clinic of all places. I’d like to thank everyone that works there for the brilliant job they do making it so friendly, helpful and generally a great place to visit. There really is no excuse to not get tested.
Dean Street Express is open six days a week and located at 34 Dean Street, London.
Click here for their website.
To donate £3 to Dean Street text DEANST to 70300 (Orange, O2 and Vodafone customers only)