When “Oops” Becomes “Uh-oh”: Finding Free STD Screenings in MadisonNov 14th, 2011 | By AidenRN | Category: Aiden, Columns, Contributors
Sex happens. You know it, I know it, your mom and dad knew it and that’s why you’re even here. Love it, like it, or hate it, sex is that all encompassing force that consumes our thoughts and- sometimes- even our lives. So when a play scene boils over into sex, whether planned or purely spur of the moment, it can be a little difficult to think about the potential consequences of your good time. It’s like stepping up to the bar again when you’re already drunk; there’s that little voice in your head trying to tell you something, but for your life you can’t remember what. The hope is, when you’re drunk off pheromones and getting ready to dive into the big S-E-X, that when you wake up in the morning it will be with the knowledge you’re physically safe. But sometimes that is not always the case.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (‘Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2009’), STD transmission is on the rise in the United States, particular Chlamydia. Part of it is due to an apathy toward condom use; the younger generation who didn’t grow up with the big AIDS scare is almost numb to the real dangers out there. Another, more hidden set back, is the wide-spread availability of birth control; while on the surface it is a wonderful thing, it also leads to a mindset of “I can’t get pregnant, so there’s nothing else to worry about”. With 241 newly reported cases of HIV in Madison alone each year, those are scary attitudes to have. Being careful means being careful all the time, recognizing that there are risks beyond unplanned pregnancy and having a condom handy is a big step in ensuring that.
So keep one around! The best way to remember to use a condom is to keep one nearby. I have heard guys fret about how it’s “presumptuous” or “rude” to have one in their wallet (don’t keep it there for long though), but it’s honestly better you have one and look presumptuous than to not have one at all. The same goes for girls who feel like it is “slutty” of them to carry condoms, even though they are just as responsible for their own well being as their partners. If anything, being prepared shows a certain respect for your partner and that you take their health, as well as your own, seriously. Plus, anyone who is prepared to do the deed with you and then gets upset because you were carrying a condom is probably not someone you’d want to sleep with anyway.
But, let’s say the deed is done and you forgot the condom in your rush to pull one another’s clothes off. It happens. At this point there’s no going back, and you look to your next step- getting tested.
If you have insurance and can go to your normal doctor, this is a cinch; one little appointment, a couple of blood tests and a urine sample later, usually a pap-smear for the female bodied, and you’ll be hearing back usually within the week. But keep in mind that most insurance policies only allow for one physical check-up, and perhaps one women’s check-up, per year; if you’ve already use it up, going in can cost you. Know your plan well before you call up the family practitioner, and be prepared for co-pays and extra charges if testing isn’t covered by your insurance.
But if you don’t have insurance, as more and more people are going without because they lost their jobs or can’t afford it, finding free or cheap testing- even in as liberal and sex-positive a city as Madison- can be a nightmare.
What inspired this article was just that for me. I was transitioning from one job to another, and spent a frightening two weeks sans health insurance. During that time I had protected sex with a new partner, but it’s my personal philosophy to get tested regularly in order to protect my steady partners. With my anniversary with my primary partner only a few weeks away, not to mention a trip across the country to visit another in just a month, I was panicked. But I figured “this is Madison, and with the university there has to be clinics and places you can go ALL OVER the city”. Oh boy was I wrong.
After a few hours on the internet, the only free clinics I could find any information on were Planned Parenthood (3706 Orin Road, over by the east side DMV; or 2222 S. Park Street #210, over by Villager Mall) and the Madison Community Health Center, also known as the William T Evjue Clinic (3434 E. Washington Ave, by MATC). Planned Parenthood offers emergency pregnancy testing and the morning after pill on a walk-in basis, but appointments are required for STD testing. They accept most insurance, as well as Medicaid, but if you are uninsured they can set up an appropriate fee for you if you provide your birth certificate, pay stub and a photo id. The Clinic offers free or reduced price STD screenings, but you have to present proof of income (or lack thereof) and go through their paperwork process, which can take up to two weeks. These clinics are wonderful resources, providing basic necessary care for those unable to afford it, but they are yet other examples of public works that are grossly underfunded and heavily burdened. And if you are in the middle of an HIV scare, waiting two weeks to be approved just to be seen has to be maddening.
Aside from those clinics, the options are still limited. I have seen that there are groups that will do random free screening nights at Plan B (924 Williamson Street), usually on Thursday nights, but there’s no internet information that I can find on it, nor are the times they are present predictable. Resources such as OutThere and the Rainbow Project can also have some useful information on where to go to get tested. The AIDS Network (600 Williamson St) also offers free HIV testing during select events and locations according to their availability.
Otherwise, the cheapest option you are looking for is to visit the University Health Services Building (333 East Campus Mall) and make an appointment in their sexual wellness clinic. Testing and check-ups are free for full-time University of Wisconsin-Madison students, but only $70 for non-students; it may be a steep price if you’re on a budget, but it can be worth the peace of mind. Getting tested uninsured at a local Dean, St. Mary’s or UW Clinic can run you anywhere from that $70 to a couple hundred, depending on how they price their doctor fees and lab fees.
‘But, Aiden,’ you say, ‘why not avoid all that and just have the STD talk with your partners?’ You should be doing that anyway! It is very important, no matter how awkward, to have that conversation before any heavy petting starts at all, because you don’t want to get so wrapped up in what they’re doing that you forget to ask all together. But it is also important to remember that, according to the CDC report from 2009, most partners UNKNOWINGLY infect their bedmates; meaning, you can talk all you want but if your lover doesn’t realize they’ve contracted something, you are still at risk. Thus my rule about being tested between lovers anyway; all it takes is one person not knowing, or worse lying, on the great web of who-has-slept-with-who and you are looking at an illness that will affect everything you do for the rest of your life. This is why condoms and regular testing are so important.
Ultimately, the best way to prevent getting an infection is to just not have sex, but what fun is that? We know that at some point you’re going to do it, you naughty little kinksters, but just like it’s important to negotiate a scene, it’s important to negotiate about safety procedures. Use protection, get tested as often as possible, and keep an open communication line with all your partners in case something does come up. In an ideal world, it would be as simple as getting in line at the local Walgreens to get tested, but at the moment the resources just aren’t there, so it is far more important to try and prevent the spread of STDs than to simply get tested often. STDs are present in the Kink community, and definitely within Madison as a city, and if you don’t know where to look it can be difficult to find a place to get tested. But hopefully these resources will be a stepping stone in which to find the right option for you, and even more will become available and present in the future.