Let's talk about sex. Actually, let's talk about the part of sex no one wants to talk about- STD's and HIV. Sexy!
Let me start with a story. When I was in college, my then boyfriend and I were hanging out at his apartment when he got in a phone call. He took it out in the hall and was out there for 45 minutes or longer. When he came back in, he seemed shaken but didn't speak and instead laid his head in my lap and fell asleep. I left and forgot about the evening until he brought the event up two weeks later. He told me the call had been about a friend of his calling to say he had contracted HIV. Even though I didn't know his friend, the news shook me and from the moment forward I lived in absolute FEAR of getting HIV. I also struggled with debilitating anxiety at that point and had a couple of break downs regarding this fear and it became this weight I carried around with me. Being that I was deathly afraid of contracting HIV, one would think I would be extra careful and get myself tested regularly. Nope. It was the exact opposite.
I, myself, am naturally monogamous (except for my freshman year of college when I was sort of sleeping with everyone) and when I am sleeping with one person, thats it for me. No matter if we are serious or not. Before sleeping with them, I would ask if they were STD free but, that's it. They said yes and I would never ask the last time they got tested or for any proof. At the time, my fear felt so paralyzing that all I could do was bury my head in the sand and cross my fingers. It meant I constantly felt guilt, shame and deep fear surrounding every sexual encounter I had. Looking back, I can see that my fear of not being good enough was at play with this scenario. I never wanted to speak up and ask the tough questions out of fear being rejected for being difficult. It saddens me I equated standing up for my sexual health with being difficult but, it's a sentiment I hear time and time again from other women. We are programmed from a very early age to be nice, not to be bossy, smile and don't get too loud. I remember a guy friend from once told me if a girl told him he had to wear a condom that meant she had an STD. I mean....
I stayed quiet for years. The staying quiet meant after a routine pap smear when I was 26 I got a call from my doctor that I had chlamydia and needed to pick up my prescription for antibiotics. I felt so dirty and ashamed. I did feel lucky that after a round of probiotics I was in the clear but, still no HIV test. One would think this would make me change my ways and take my sexual health more seriously but, it didn't.
I got my first HIV test 5 years ago. I was 28 so tow years after my run in with an STI. At that point, I had had unprotected sex and never asked any of my partners what their status was. Two weeks before I finally got tested, I went in with every intention of getting the test but, had a panic attack and left before I was seen. When I finally made it to the counselors office, two weeks later, I was so shaky and weepy, she allowed me to stay in the room to wait the 15min for the results. Getting the negative was a relief I can't quite explain. I felt like the weight of the world had been taken off my shoulders. This time, I did start to take my sexual health more seriously. I was more adamant about condoms, which was a start. However, I STILL didn't ask or want to see proof of testing. My head was still buried in the sand.
I was pretty much there until recently. I stopped having sex altogether for a year so, that helped but, I still had this nagging fear of having HIV. For me having HIV would mean the things I always worried about myself being true, that I was unworthy of love, would in fact be true. 33 felt like a really good year to step into my power, drop the bullshit of those fears and face them head on. I realized how much of my power I was giving away by "trying to be cool", "go with the flow" around sex. Do you know what's cool? A women who respects herself enough to know whether her partner has an STD so she can make an informed decision. I also am tired of the topic around STD's/STI's and HIV being so hush hush. I have had an STI. I felt so shameful but, it happens. It doesn't need to be a shameful thing we all hide though! The more we talk about the reality of sex, the positives and the negatives, the more we can remove the stigma around STI's/STD's and HIV. The less shame around the topic, the more open we all will be, the more people will get tested and get treated, thus stopping the spread of STI's/STD's in the first place. I'm starting here!
This past weekend, I put my money where my mouth is and got tested. I got an STD screening and a rapid HIV test-- who can wait two weeks for HIV results?!-- and it felt REALLY good to take control of my health. I don't have medical insurance and there are a TON of free clinics that you get STD/HIV testing at for no cost. The HIV test still felt scary and I still felt shaky when the counselor pricked my finger to get blood. The testing only took one minute and hearing the negative still felt like a huge relief.
I went to, AFH , and found a free clinic near me. The cool thing about the AFH site is you can put your address in and it will pull up the closest clinic to you--anywhere in the states. All free. 2018 is a great year to remove the stigma around STI's/STD's and HIV, get ourselves tested and empower ourselves through knowing where we stand.
When's the last time you were tested?