Have I ever given anyone an STI? (sexually transmitted infection) I’m pretty sure I haven’t. Has anyone given me one? Yes they have. I got chlamydia from a boyfriend when I was 22. We’d just ditched the condoms (as I was on the pill) and it turns out that that may have been a bit premature. But now, years later I’m actually grateful for the experience. (Not that it was my first time getting tested, it was my third. The sexual education the nuns gave me was pretty comprehensive around what I could catch from boys’ willies and had given me a healthy dose of caution for them.) But it was this experience that changed my outlook completely; how did I catch something from someone I trusted? That doesn’t happen?
Pretty naïve right? But let’s cut him some slack, he wasn’t cheating on me. It wasn’t that long since he’d broken up with his last girlfriend when we got together (I’ll be casting no aspersions on her character and neither will you). I don’t know nor do I care really how he picked it up, what I do know is that he told me straight away.
It was a weird phone call, him being solemn asking if he could call round. If the genders had been reversed I would have thought that he was about to tell me he was pregnant, instead I just thought that he was going to break up with me. He didn’t and I didn’t throw him out either. He was direct, told me what he had and that I needed to go and get tested.
You’ll have to believe me when I tell you that I didn’t hate him or that it didn’t damage my ability to trust. Because it really didn’t. But it definitely dented my notion of youthful infallibility. And I learned the lesson that someone can be giving you what they think is the truth, but that doesn’t mean that it is. I was no longer willing to take someone’s word for it. This doesn’t mean that I was a hard-nosed bitch to all future partners, I just now took the stance that we’d be getting tested before condom ditching time. No judgment, that’s just how it was going to be.
So it was 2 pills, antibiotics I think? And it was gone. I’d never even heard of chlamydia before then, and certainly had no idea how stealthily dangerous it was. As is usual I had no symptoms and was wholly unaware of its existence within me. I was unscathed by having it and unscathed by the cure for it. Unlike warts, which are burnt off, or herpes, which you have forever or crabs – I got off relatively easy.
So, unemotionally damaged by being infected by my partner and not at all damaged by the infection itself, what was it that was noteworthy about this? Well, I wasn’t too thrilled with how I was treated at the clinic. There was a slight air of condescension, mixed with superiority and incredulity; what was a girl like me doing here. As if I’d let the middleclass side down.
The doctor who was going through my chart and asking me about my history treated me like I was her pupil and she was the headmistress. You can rest assured that I was not cowed by this.
At the time I had slept with 8 people. I know this because I remember having to say it about 4 times to different people on that visit, and she made me go through them. Then she asked about my current partner and how was I going to conduct myself after this incident. I’m really not sure it was any of her business to ask me that but I told her nonetheless; that I was going to continue to sleep with him and as soon as the chlamydia was gone we would go back to not using condoms as I was on the pill. Which then prompted her to ask me how I knew I could I trust him, again, I’m not sure why I answered, maybe because I was desperately in love with him and utterly offended on his behalf. How dare she? My response was to tell her that I trusted him about as much as anyone can trust anyone else, how much did she trust her partner, how was she herself sure she wasn’t being cheated on?
We left it at that.
I went back a year later to get tested again. I was still with the same guy, I had no reason to mistrust him and I was certainly not cheating on him. But the seed of doubt had been set and I liked the idea of having a clean bill of health, like already knowing I would be getting 100% in a test!
This time they gave out to me. What a flip flop! From insinuating that no one is to be trusted to telling me I was wasting their time if I was with the same partner.
(I did forget to mention that my boyfriend did also have warts – he only ever had the one that one time but I was also afraid that they might has passed to me and lain dormant. I wasn’t wilfully wasting national medical services, just so you know)
We were together for 4 years. We had a great time unhindered by our shaky start. And after we broke up I started getting tested every year. I’m never careless, there are always condoms but condoms can break. And there’s always the worry that someone might not know they have anything so I can’t ever take anyone’s word for it. I’m fine with that, because I don’t expect anyone to take mine.
I have a duty of care to anyone I’m sleeping with and I would like to think they have one for me.
So I got tested this week. I’m not genuinely worried about either of the guys that I’ve been with but should I be? I’m not going out with either of them, how much trust do they owe me?
Let’s take guy one, I was with him at Christmas anyone who’s read this blog more than once will know of the Cop. We have a long-standing arrangement, we were both tested when we were exclusive and we were condomless for a while now.
But, if you read this blog closely you might also know that we are not exclusive anymore, he is living with his partner.
Now for guy number two. We’ll call him the Belt because of the first time I was with him (you can read about that here, and you should, it’s hot!) The first time I was with the Belt the condom broke, he came inside me. I am on the pill so there was no panic on that front, but what about STIs? He assured me that he was certain he had nothing. I told him I was fairly sure I didn’t either.
But, in one of his opening conversations with me the Belt had told me about his recent sex with an ex.
Trust is a funny thing isn’t it? We don’t want to insult someone and to avoid doing so we ignore some of our protective instincts, ignoring danger. For my part, after the condom broke the Belt suggested that as the horse had bolted we might as well carry on. I light-heartedly said that it didn’t work like that, it was more like Russian roulette; you don’t keep firing the gun just cos you’ve hit on one empty barrel. But I didn’t press the matter. I didn’t want to be an asshole and I didn’t want to insult him by insinuating that he might have an STI and not know about it, when I have first-hand experience of that being the case.
And with the cop, I did ask him if he thought his girlfriend could be cheating on him …. Given that he was cheating on her. Again this really wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, I’ve no real interest in their relationship but I have real and very big interest in my own sexual health. Again, I didn’t press the issue.
So at the very minimum there are 5 people in this: both the guys and their girls and me in the middle. Hopefully not catching anything or passing on anything.
I suppose I’m looking at it like this; nothing has changed since I caught chlamydia, least of all my statement to the prissy doctor. How much can we really trust anyone? In two weeks I’ll know if I’m in the clear, unfortunately this will only tell me if I’m in the clear from the cop. As it was less than 2 weeks since I’d had sex with the Belt my test results won’t show if I’ve caught gonorrhoea or chlamydia – both of which have an incubation period of 2 weeks.
I really want to trust him, I want to believe that his last sex with his ex was protected and none of the sex he’s had since the last time he was screened was condomless either. But I won’t be able to ask that. My fear of insulting him will stop me. That and my belief that it’s pointless to ask anyway when the chances are he might not know. What I want to do is to ask him to get tested himself, but that feels like an ask greater than my entitlement at this point.
Because it is.
I can always go back and get tested again in two weeks – which would avoid me having to have an awkward conversation and then I could get my 100% on the test.
But what do I do in the meantime… do I still have sex with him? Do I still have condomless sex with him?
For a bit of perspective here, this is a guy I have met twice. I’ve no real right to ask him about his whole sexual history or to ask him to get tested. I have no real rights here to be asking anything of him.
Which isn’t strictly true, I do have the right to ask him to wear protection with me. Of course I do.
Except that’s not what I did. What I said was …. I was happy to keep having raw, straight in the door, fucked over the couch sex, but I wasn’t happy to do that if he was doing it with anyone else. I asked him to wear condoms if he intended putting his penis in anyone else.
He agreed of course, it was hardly an unreasonable thing to ask. But now I feel like what I should have said was, sleep with who you like, how you like, but with me I think we should be using condoms, because at least then I know that I’m taking care of myself.
Trust is a funny thing. And hindsight; the most useless of all the sights.
Let’s have more conversations about protection, let’s encourage people to get tested but mostly and what I haven’t said in this piece, let’s not scaremonger or vilify anyone for catching anything – it happens, we’re human. I realise that’s easier said than done but if we keep talking about it, we can destigmatise it.