Last week, I took an STD test.
Actually, let me start at the beginning. Two weeks ago, I was chatting on Skype with a friend in Japan. She was telling me about her most recent boyfriend when something she said caught my attention. “Do you use condoms?” I typed.
“No, we don’t.”
“My every friend asks that question too . . . I am afraid that he might dislike me if I say no.”
“I’m guessing that you’re on birth control?”
“No, I am not using birth control pills yet.”
“Aren’t you worried about getting pregnant?”
“Yes . . . he always pulls out . . . I know that is not the best way.”
“Are you worried about STDs? Do you get yourself tested regularly?’
“I don’t get tested regularly. I think I should. Just I am afraid.”
After our conversation ended, her words kept churning in my brain. How can she be a woman in her thirties and be so worried about a man liking her that she won’t even bring up the possibility of contraception? Why would she put her body at risk for an unplanned pregnancy because she’s unwilling to ask an awkward question and too (stupid/lazy/ignorant/medically incapable) to go on birth control? Doesn’t she realize that she is putting herself and every partner at risk of sexually transmitted diseases because she’s too afraid to find out and take steps to protect herself, or abstain from sex?
And then it occurred to me that I was doing the same thing I was mentally berating her for doing. Since my divorce, I’ve been sexually active, with multiple people. I use contraception, but what if one of those partners had an STD and wasn’t aware, or, even worse, had one and didn’t mention it on purpose? Why would I expect that it’s her responsibility to tell me, whether or not I ask?
The reality is that I was trying to remain blissfully ignorant. Like my friend, I would rather pretend like I had nothing to worry about than actually find out. Whether it’s the stigma of being tested for STDs (so much for “innocent until proven guilty”) or the fear of adding guilt and reprisals to an activity that was undertaken without too much consideration, it just seemed easier to pretend that everything is, was, and forever will be okay. Hearing my friend’s fears helped me face mine. Regardless how confident I was that I was safe and healthy, it was stupid and irresponsible to make any assumptions when it comes to me, my health, and the health of my partners.
I researched the best way to get a test taken, made an appointment, and went in to give the requisite blood and urine samples. I wish I could say that I was calm and confident and happy to be there, instead of feeling guilty and wrong and dirty. I spoke in hushed tones with the woman who took down my information and cringed when she asked loudly if I had experienced any pain or discomfort as a reason for getting tested, even though my answer to every question she asked was “No”.
I’m writing this post because I think it’s an important topic to talk about. I think that as adults, it can be easy to think that we’re invincible, or that bad things only happen to “other people”. It can be easy to take that fear and shame and hide it away behind confidence and bravado. Doing that, however, only hurts you and the people with whom you are intimate. The fear and stigma of being tested for sexually transmitted diseases will pale in comparison to the absolute dread that would come from informing every partner that they too may be afflicted, thanks to your ignorance, stupidity, or cowardice.
When my results arrived, I had nothing but the utmost confidence that everything was fine. That didn’t stop my hand from shaking a little as I opened the envelope or my heart from feeling lighter when I read the results indicating that I was, in fact, completely healthy. I didn’t have any burning or itching or bumps or oozing. I didn’t have a partner tell me that I needed to get tested because they were positive. I didn’t have any reason other than the fact that I am an adult who has engaged in sexual activity with multiple partners. That’s all the reason that I, and any of you, should need.
In other non-STD related Avita-news, today is the birthday of the wonderful, sassy, amazing Nancy, from Fear and Parenting in Las Vegas! Happy birthday, fucker!