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My First Planned Parenthood Experience

To celebrate Men's Health Month this June, volunteer Rob recounted his experience getting care from Planned Parenthood.

            So when I woke up on that Thursday morning last October, planning on getting a wide ranging STI screening at Planned Parenthood, I figured I would be in for a fairly straightforward day. Drive to the Planned Parenthood Health Center in my town, get in and get the testing done, get out, and then run some more errands. You know, have a productive day off from work, basically. Little did I know that I would get home later that day having learned a very valuable lesson about Planned Parenthood.

            After a surprisingly revelatory journey (which will be recounted at a later date), I arrived at the Elizabeth Health Center. I had never stepped foot inside a Planned Parenthood Health Center before, let alone to get tested for STIs, so I didn’t know what to expect. I had received STI screenings from other health clinics in the past, and those had universally been clinical, if professional, in nature. So, at best, I expected the same from Planned Parenthood. At worst, I feared that I would be looked on with suspicion by any of the female patients there, which was not my intent. Truth be told, the thought of making other people uncomfortable made me uncomfortable, but I was already there, so I shrugged off my anxiety and ventured inside. There was a security officer there monitoring those coming in and out, and as the Elizabeth Health Center shared a building with something else at the time, I asked how to get to the proper place in the building. She politely directed me towards the elevator off to the side, and I was on my way.

            Upstairs, in the waiting room, I signed in at the front desk and informed them of my reason for coming. After putting down my insurance information, I sat down to await my turn. As I waited, I noticed that I was the only male patient there at the time. What I also noticed, more important than that fact, was that none of the female patients there paid my presence any mind at all. It was like it was regular waiting for a regular doctor’s appointment…mainly because, in hindsight, it really was just a regular waiting room for a regular doctor’s appointment for these women. Pap smears, pelvic exams, and pregnancy tests, among other things, no doubt. Likewise, to them, I was just there for a doctor’s appointment, and so my presence was immaterial. I felt embarrassed for ever feeling embarrassed about going to Planned Parenthood, and as a result, I busied myself by scrolling through Facebook on my phone. Eventually, I was called up for my STI screening, and so I got up to meet my doctor.

            The doctor led me to the room where the screenings would be performed; I had asked for a full screening, which covered Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis. In addition, I had requested an HIV test, just to cover all the bases. As the doctor performed the various parts of the tests on me, from drawing blood to swabbing the inside of my mouth, she engaged me in conversation, respectfully inquiring about my sexual history and seeing if I practiced safe sexual practices. As the session continued, I never felt uncomfortable as a result of her questions or comments; she made every effort to be respectful and informative as we talked, informing me of other services that Planned Parenthood provided for men, including cancer screenings, vasectomies, infertility screenings and referrals, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation support, and urinary tract infection testing and treatment. As we waited for my HIV test to finish (it usually takes about 20 minutes to complete), we even exchanged some lighthearted banter about a television show we both watched (shoutout to Insecure). In the end, my results for HIV were negative, putting me at great ease, as, while I had not presented any symptoms leading up to that day, it had been about a year since my last STI screening, and I had been sexually active with more than one partner since then. Better safe than sorry, right? In the end, I thanked the doctor for her time and professionalism, and left the health center feeling good. That feeling was only amplified three days later, when I would learn via phone call that my test results for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis had come back negative as well.

            As I drove home later that evening, I thought about the day’s events, and how my relationship to Planned Parenthood had changed. I had always believed it to provide essential services for women, and I had supported it for doing so. Upon reflection, however, it struck me that, like many other men, I had bought into the notion that Planned Parenthood did not have anything to offer me as a man; even worse, I had fallen into the trap of being worried it would outright not be a welcoming place for me. I felt foolish to have ever believed such a thing, but I also felt I had learned something important.  Indeed, I had come to a significant realization: Planned Parenthood was just as much of a health care provider for men as it is for women, and that I could go there in the future secure in the knowledge that I would be treated with the utmost respect and professionalism. All told, it was a very educational day.