I’ve always been diligent about maintaining my sexual health. I’m religious about getting my yearly pap smear, and before my current long-term partner and I decided to forego condoms, I made sure that he’d also tested STD-free after he’d broken up with his ex. So when I got diagnosed with chlamydia, I was shocked and confused. I knew my boyfriend hadn’t cheated on me, but the experience still changed me and my sex life in ways I’d never anticipated.
I felt disgusting. I’d never had an STD before, and it was something I took a lot of pride in. Even though I knew how ridiculously common chlamydia was, learning that I had it suddenly made me feel gross. And worse, that “gross” feeling made me feel ashamed of myself — I’d always reassured my friends that they were still awesome when they were diagnosed with a bacterial infection or STD, but now that it had happened to me, I felt like I couldn’t walk the walk and reassure myself of the same thing.
I re-educated myself on STDs. I was lucky enough to get a pretty decent sex ed. class in high school, but it had been so long ago that I needed a refresher course. I started Googling not only chlamydia, but all the other STDs out there, too. Once I felt more educated about what was happening with my body (and what could’ve happened if I’d slept with someone who had something more dangerous), I felt calmer. Knowledge really felt like a weapon that I could use to overcome the emotional stress of being diagnosed with an STD.
It was a hard reminder to use condoms. I’ve always been good about using condoms with new partners, but my boyfriend and I had been together long enough that I felt safe just using hormonal birth control. After talking with my doctor, I learned that chlamydia can take up to six weeks to show up on an STD test, and given that my boyfriend had gotten tested right after he’d broken up with his ex, it made sense that it might’ve been too early to trust that negative test result. Even though I trusted him (and still do), innocent mistakes like that can happen, and now we’re both a bit more diligent about using condoms.
It stayed in the back of my mind after I was treated. I was pretty paranoid for a while even after I took the medicine I needed to get rid of the infection. Every time my boyfriend and I had sex, I was at least a little bit stressed out that maybe the negative test result I’d gotten after getting rid of the STD was false, or that even with a condom, one of us might get the disease again. My thoughts crossed the line of caution and wandered into irrational territory. It was months before I finally started to feel completely at ease having sex again.
I realized how socially stigmatized STDs are. I never really paid attention to the comments people made about STDs until I got one. Suddenly, I was hyper-aware of all the people who implied that women who had a lot of sexual partners must be crawling with diseases or that a certain guy “looked” like he had at least five STDs. I didn’t have any super obvious symptoms when I was diagnosed with chlamydia, and I got it not after hooking up with multiple guys, but after being a loyal girlfriend to one man and just not being careful enough. No wonder I’d felt so gross when I got diagnosed — the world tends to act like even a minor STD is the worst thing that could happen to a person.
It forced me to get comfortable talking about this stuff with my boyfriend. I knew my boyfriend wouldn’t flip out when I told him I had chlamydia, but I still felt terrible telling him about it. I’m almost obnoxiously comfortable talking about sexual subjects, but for some reason, telling my partner that I had an STD left me so scared. Once I realized that he was educated enough on the topic not to freak out, though, I started to relax. Within a day, we were making jokes about it (“Do you think my penis will start to glow in the dark if I leave it untreated long enough?”), and it reminded me that if we wanted this relationship to work, we had to be comfortable talking about the tough stuff like this, too.
Sex became both scarier and more comfortable. The reminder of what could go wrong without protection will never leave my mind, but at the same time, getting chlamydia was almost like getting my first period (except, you know, more dangerous). Once I experienced it, it became less taboo. I felt like even though I’d thankfully gotten an easily treatable STD, I’d dealt with an uncomfortable, slightly scary experience and come out on the other side just fine.
It really hit me just how common STDs are. I’d always had the “it won’t happen to me” mentality when it came to STDs. I’d always been very picky about my sexual partners and very careful about using protection… well, for the most part. I had a few friends who weren’t so careful, so I wasn’t really surprised when they ended up with chlamydia, but I was shocked when I was diagnosed. When I got it, it really hit me that even someone like my boyfriend, who’d only ever had long-term partners and got tested before we slept together, could give me an STD. It was an eye-opener.
It made me pay more attention to my body. I learned that I had chlamydia because my irregular periods and spotting inspired me to visit the gynecologist four months before I was due for my annual check-up. I was expecting them to just tell me that my hormones were a bit out of whack, but my diagnosis made me glad that I’d listened when my body wasn’t acting “normal.” My M.O. is normally to just suck it up and wait for the problem to fix itself when something hurts or isn’t working the way it should, but from now on, I’ll be more attentive to anything that’s amiss in or on my body.
I was no longer worried about just getting pregnant. As someone who never wants to have kids, getting pregnant was the worst sexually transmitted problem that I could imagine. Because I’d assumed my boyfriend was clean and knew that I had tested clean during my last visit to the lady doctor, STDs weren’t even on my radar for things I should worry about. But from the moment I got diagnosed, I vowed to myself that I’d always take the threat of STDs more seriously, even with a long-term, “safe” partner.
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