“I don’t think I’d ever date someone with AIDS.”
It started in September when a guy I met on Tinder came over for the first time. We were watching “How To Get Away With Murder” and he blurted out the comment about never dating someone with AIDS. Sure, it was mildly relevant to the plotline but it was such a quick, judgmental comment that I had no idea what to say next. The comment felt highly personal and put me on the defensive, not because I have AIDS, but because I was immediately offended that someone could be so dismissive of someone they don’t know.
The interaction made me think about stigmas, but not too deeply, because I have never been in a situation where I had to choose whether or not to have sex with someone based on their sexual health status. I was just offended by his blatant dismissal of someone based on their health and not compatibility or some other “normal” standard.
A few months later, I had another potential sexual partner that I found on Tinder and the conversation was going really well. We had plans for the weekend when he told me (via text) that he had herpes. My immediate reaction was panic, then I started researching herpes and rates of transmittal. He told me how if I was worried, then I should have a conversation with my doctor. He and I had a very mature conversation where I stated my concerns but told him it didn’t affect our plans.
In fact, there were two things that made me more comfortable with having sex with him: a video by Adam Ruins Everything and an article written by Ella Dawson that took the stigma out of the disease. Ella goes into detail about her experience with herpes which helped me humanize the whole experience and Adam Ruins Everything confronts the fear and scaremongering surrounding herpes. These non-medical resources relieved some of the anxiety I had about having sex with a guy who happened to also have herpes.
One of the things I struggle with is getting tested regularly. I have high anxiety and it puts me into a panic every time I get tested, and I always hype up the experience versus what it actually feels like when it’s all over. The last time I had been tested was in September, and I didn’t get tested again until six or seven months later.
But for the first time, I got the dreaded call from Planned Parenthood – and no call is good news. I was at work and I panicked completely when I got the voicemail and immediately called back.
I had chlamydia.
Usually, I practice safe sex. There were a few times where I had a lapse in judgment and I have one semi-regular partner who I wouldn’t use condoms with but I thought I was fine.
And then with that one phone call, I felt the crushing shame and stigma. I was worried people would look at me differently once they knew. I felt like I had “chlamydia” branded on my forehead. But once again, I did my research and Planned Parenthood gave me all the information I needed. Luckily, I have friends and coworkers who were supportive emotionally and I was laughing about it in a few hours.
We put a lot of pressure on teens and young adults to be smart about sex. They have to abstain or practice safe sex all the time and be completely perfect and conform with the sexual culture. But that’s not healthy. It makes us scared to get tested and talk openly about our diseases and infections. It makes it hard to get all the accurate information. Fear is a powerful force and the more we make people fear STDs, the more unhealthy our sexual culture is.
Even as I write about this stigma and how we need to shake it, I know I’ll publish this anonymously. I may be open about my sex life and my sexual health with my friends and partners, but it’s something that I still feel some shame about.
But I shouldn’t feel shame for having the most common STD among young adults. As one of my coworkers told me, “We’ve all been there and if someone says they haven’t, they’re probably lying.”
And I was lucky. Chlamydia is one of the most easily treated STD. I took two antibiotic pills and it was done. Others aren’t so lucky – they have to live with their STD every day and while there are ways to treat it, there’s no cure.
This made me realize just how much we define people by what we think they are or what they have. In this case, we define people by their sexual diseases when we find out. You know those “Oh that person with AIDS” comments. But by defining people by their STDs, it makes it that much easier to feel dehumanized by them, which promotes the stigma. We isolate them when really such a high number of sexually active people have at least one STD during their lifetime. Fear encourages stigmas, and the only way to fight these stigmas surrounding sex and sexual diseases is to learn and educate our peers and our children.
So do yourself, your friends, and your partners a favor: Don’t judge and do your research. Planned Parenthood has tons of resources on all the STDs on their website. Be open about sex and sexual health with your partners and even your friends, because you never know what someone is going through. It’s a hard thing to embrace but the more we talk about it the less shame it holds.
Sex can be a positive thing and we shouldn’t forget that.
Featured photo: Unsplash.com