A few weeks ago I was sitting in the waiting room of the local GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinic to get tested for STI’s/STD’s (I don’t know what the difference is). I’d never been to one before; I’ve been tested at my GP’s but at that moment in time I was in the process of changing doctors and when I decide I want to do something, I want to do it right fucking now.
The clientele ranged from giggling teenage girls to a couple in their fifties. I found myself thinking with disdain that the girls probably turned up for a positive test result every month and one of the couple probably cheated. Then I wondered what they thought of me; young, blonde, a little hungover. Maybe I looked like I was here to get the morning after pill after fucking some meathead I met in a club.
I was called in. The nurse went through my sexual history and a few other questions (“Have you ever injected drugs or been paid for sex? You’d be surprised at how many people have”). She was weirdly insistent on taking down the name of the last person I slept with. I refused because it made me feel uncomfortable. Then I took my bottoms off and got on the bed. She got the speculum out – “This will feel a little unpleasant in the same way that your smear test does” – I closed my eyes and thought of England. This part of the test was to collect samples to be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Feeling grossed out yet? I was as she explained all this to me.
Then it was time to move into the next room for the HIV test. The idea of one was sobering. Nurses with syringes instilled terror in me ever since I fainted and had a seizure halfway through giving blood. A second nurse came in to get some tablets out from a cupboard. She saw me and said she’d hold my hand. ‘How did you spend your Christmas?’ she asked.
I said, ‘I got drunk and spent Christmas day on my parents’ sofa reading a book and eating sausage rolls.’ She laughed.
I was given a piece of paper with the results line number on it and sent on my merry way. I checked Twitter when I got home and flinched at a Tweet that read, ‘Never holla at a girl in the doctor’s waiting room, she might be there because she has the clap’. I remembered how judgemental I felt about the girls and the couple in the waiting room. Really, they could have been there for any number of reasons. Maybe their partner cheated. Maybe the condom broke. Maybe they were there to get the Pill, or to change the type of Pill because of side effects. Maybe they were there to change their Nexplanon. Maybe they had sex with a new partner. Maybe they had sex with a stranger, or multiple strangers, and so what if they did? For someone who bangs on about not judging other people’s lifestyles, I was a piece of shit for glaring at the other people in that waiting room.
There is no stigma around catching a cold from someone sneezing on you. There is no stigma around getting an upset stomach from badly prepared food. But being diagnosed with an STI is massively shameful and dirty because sex is a clean beautiful romantic thing and the idea of HORRID DISEASES ruins the idea, right?
And that’s not good – because it’s wrong. There are still big conservative sections of society that believe in the sanctity of the unsullied vagina etc (side note: why is my “honour” and “self-respect” represented by my cunt?) but for the most part it is much more socially acceptable to have sex with multiple partners before marriage – if marriage even happens, and if it doesn’t then that’s completely fine too, hurrah society etc. Therefore more people have sex with more other people and there is a bigger chance of STI transmission.
Shaming people for having sex isn’t going to solve anything. We need to be honest with ourselves and with each other about sexual health, partners and the risk of infection. We need to know about symptoms (or in some cases, lack of) and to get tested regularly after each new partner. And we really need to realise that having an STI isn’t indicative of ‘slutty’ behaviour. I could go off on a massive tangent about how sleeping around doesn’t even make someone A Bad Person because I strongly believe that and anyone who doesn’t is an insecure child but I won’t because that’s not the point.
The point is that one of my friends, who only slept with four people in the entire thirty years he’s been alive, once tested positive for chlamydia and had to take a dose of penicillin that made him feel like shit for two days. My overall ‘body count’ is higher but when I rang the results line two weeks later, an automated voice told me that all my results came back negative.
Still think I’m a skank?