[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win the big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. ]
I had always been very careful and safe with my sexual partners. Condoms, birth control, dental dams and saran wrap, I used it all.
I first started taking the pill when I was 15, and obtained it from my local Planned Parenthood. I remember being scared out of my wits about the idea of a stranger throwing my feet into stirrups and staring into my vagina.
After it was all said and done, it really wasn’t half as terrifying as my mind had made it seem. The desk staff was friendly, accommodating and answered any questions I had. The Doc that got a good view of my birds' nest was just as friendly and great at easing my nerves. They respected privacy and in hushed tones would give you instructions on how to use the pill.
I left with a year's supply of birth control pills and a low co-pay. For the remainder of my teenage years, I frequented this PP often. Any time I had questions, or concerns I knew I’d feel comfortable going there.
Upon one of my later visits, the female doc I saw, fingers still in my jamboree, exclaimed how amazing my uterus was and how she wished her students could see this perfect example of a tipped uterus. She explained that this was probably why my cervix was so hard to lock down. OK, I’ve got a cervix that likes to play hide and seek, awesome.
In my early 20s, I moved to a bigger city. I quickly made a life for myself, but didn’t have any health insurance.
I started dating my first mistake in a new city and this was when I got my first kill-me-now-UTI. I called my local PP to try and schedule an appointment, because peeing out blood clots really wasn’t on my list of fun things to do that weekend. They told me they could see me in 3 weeks.
My jaw dropped slightly and I declined the appointment. 3 weeks? After a tear-filled night, with no rest in sight, I gave in and went to the ER. Some $500 antibiotics later, I was on my way home.
Our relationship fizzled out and I started dating a new man.
Some people are natural manipulators, and this he surely was. He gradually unofficially moved in with me and was at my apartment more often than I was. He got along great with my two roommates, one of whom was female. We got a dog together, and after 3 months of dating, he even tried to propose to me.
I put the brakes on and deterred that one real fast. I mean, marriage? That was crazy talk.
By the time 6 months had come around, it came to light that he was a pathological liar, had possibly slept with my female roommate, and told my male roommate lies to get between us. He never showed signs of aggression until one night, when the issues between my roommate and I came to a head, he threw me across the room and choked me. I hit my back on his bed frame and couldn’t move for the better part of half an hour.
Choking on tears and fearful for my life, I ran home. It took me over an hour, at 3am with no traffic to impede my travels; I couldn’t even find a cab.
Within a month, I moved out of my apartment and tried to start a new life.
I met a new man, and out of loneliness and a need to fulfill that animalistic instinct we ended up having sex. I believe a woman can take charge of her sexuality, and be empowered by it. A woman has just as much right as any man to choose her sexual partners, and to make advances towards them.
When they are done safely, one-night stands can be sexual fulfillments of that itch you just need to scratch. I had always been a woman aware of her sexual prowess and empowered by her own body. I love my body and am not ashamed to be comfortable in it in all its sexual glory.
We used several condoms, and even a dental dam. He stayed the night and left the next morning.
Within 2 weeks, I noticed something wasn’t right. One night while watching TV with my roommate, I got hit with the worst onset of the sudden flu. My entire body ached, I had the chills, and couldn’t stop my jaw from shaking. I went to bed and stayed there for a day.
I lost my appetite and was tired almost constantly. I started experiencing extreme discomfort in my lady parts, and gradually noticed red sores appearing. Everywhere.
I did what anyone my age would do, I Googled the symptoms. Flu-like symptoms? Yep. Body aches? Yeah. Constant exhaustion? Uh oh.
I lost all the blood in my body and turned into a walking corpse the first 24 hours. I read everything I could, and -- without a doubt -- I knew I had it.
I called my local PP, the same one that wanted me to wait 3 weeks for a possible UTI. They got me in the next day, after I was adamant I had an STI.
It hurt to walk. It hurt to think. I just hurt.
The next morning I woke up and got ready for my appointment. I took a deep breath, pulled up my big girl pants and walked to the PP.
I walked through the giant metal detectors, and had to be buzzed through 2 separate doors before a woman seated at the desk greeted me. She gave me paperwork and hurried me to take a seat. My name was called and I followed the voice into a bathroom where she made me pee in a cup.
I was then walked to a clinic room, where without even looking at me the nurse told me to get undressed and have a seat. That it was probably nothing and I was overreacting, but the doctor would be in soon.
I waited. I waited for what must have been hours in an alternate reality where I wasn’t getting tested for an STI. In my reality, it was only 10 minutes.
The doctor comes in and I know the routine. I lay on the bed and put my feet in the stirrups. She begins to tell me it’s probably something else and most things are treatable.
She puts her face between my legs and instantly her voice changes. She's no longer reassuring me, but now telling me that it surely does look like herpes, and it’s pretty bad.
I hold my breath. She takes swabs of what is now turning into my humiliation. She stabs at a mole I have at the opening of my lady area, and I have to tell her it’s just a mole.
“Oh, well, I can’t be too sure. I’m going to swab it anyways.”
I stare at the ceiling. She begins to ask me how many sexual partners I’ve had. If I’ve ever used a condom, and if I’m aware of the ramifications of unprotected sex. She throws in a question about smoking cigarettes, and I wish I could light one up right there.
The tone of her voice paired with the accusatory way in which she approaches every subject with me makes me feel 10 inches tall. I want to cry and tell her it’s not my fault.
She leaves the room, and comes back with a pamphlet on how to care for herpes, and another one safe sex. I run my fingers through the papers and see that it’s a poor print-off from a website I had already read the previous day.
My clothes are on, and I’m headed to the receptionist.
She takes my chart from me, and in a tone far from hushed she reiterates what is written.
“Oh, herpes, you’ll hear from us soon if it’s type 1 or 2. Your co-pay can be seen on the screen, and we’ll let you know about the gonorrhea test as well. Did you get a pregnancy test ordered, too?”
I shake my head no, so she adds it to the list of things to be done on my fluid-work.
I swipe my card and pay for the visit. My hands beginning to shake, I can feel the emotion building up behind my eyes. I need to get out.
I get buzzed through the first door. My eyes fill with tears.
I get buzzed through the second door, and onto the street I go. I put on my sunglasses and start walking home.
A week later I get a phone call that it’s type 1, less reoccurring than type 2 and is more often found in the oral cavity of individuals. Cold sores. Cold sores exposed to genital tissue can cause genital herpes.
Since my initial diagnosis, I’ve struggled with acceptance. Acceptance of my own body, acceptance of my sexuality, and acceptance of my role in keeping others' sexual health safe.
I knew the truth about me, I was afraid others could see it written over my face like a dirty secret. I couldn’t accept myself, how could someone else?
I had always been responsible and safe with my own sexual health, and the silence of a one-night stand left a mark on me I’ll never be able to get rid of. I’ve looked inwardly for the answers and the strength not to let the social stigma of the STI get to me.
Now, after almost 6 years, I’m comfortable enough with facing the truth and whatever outcome may come from it.
The STI doesn't define me. I was a girl that unfortunate circumstances happened to, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Watch out for yourself, and keep yourself safe. At the end of the day, it’s often all you can count on.