Monday, July 25, 2011

Learning my Lesson the Hard Way

[TW for STIs, slut-shaming, internalized societal shaming, emotional disturbance]

One of the things that I have fought so hard to end is the stigma surrounding STIs. It seems to be a commonly held idea that anyone who gets an STI somehow deserves it, that they're getting their comeuppance for daring to open their legs, that they're "obviously sluts" and that they're disgustingly gross people. (It's important to note that most of the people who are given this stigma are women.) It also seems to be a commonly held idea that it will never happen to you, that it's just one of those things that happens to someone else (usually those who "deserve it"). None of these things are true. How do I know this?

I was told by my gynecologist last Friday that I tested positive for chlamydia.

I never in a million years thought that  this would ever happen to me. I was always very careful, but for some reason, even though I knew it wasn't true, somewhere in the back of my mind I believed that if you were strictly monogamous that it was nigh impossible for you to contract an STI. I somehow forgot that previous partners of your current partner might have had (or still have) something that they passed on to your partner, who could in turn pass it on to you. Chlamydia is one of the sneakier STIs because most people who get it are asymptomatic, so aside from getting tested at the very beginning of our relationship, there was no way for us to know. Our mistake came in the form of us not getting tested; even if you are monogamous and you think that you're both clean, the only way you can know for sure is if you both get tested.

When my gynecologist gave me the news, despite everything I had learned, despite my vehemence in abolishing the stigma surrounding STIs and the people who contract them, I felt like I was the most disgusting person on the planet and that I was contaminating everything and everyone that I touched.  I cried for the rest of the afternoon of my diagnosis and it took quite a few days for that feeling to go away, although I admit that it's still creeping at the back of my mind. It's just so mind boggling to me just how effective societal programming is; it sneaks up on you without you ever realizing it and then once something like this happens to you, even though you've worked for a long, long time to prevent this from happening to other people, you realize just how little you've actually accomplished with yourself.

Despite the fact that I was emotionally distraught, I knew that I had to take charge of my health and immediately took the appropriate measures to do so, both for myself and my boyfriend, who also had to be treated as soon as possible. Thanks to the fact that I'm lucky enough to have insurance, I was able to get the antibiotics the same day. However, my boyfriend is uninsured and so he wasn't able to do the same. We also wanted to get tested for every other STI just to be safe, so I was going to bring him to Planned Parenthood with me this morning, but he works from 8 am-3:30 pm in Manhattan (we live in Staten Island), and Planned Parenthood is only on Staten Island on Mondays from 9 am-4 pm, so there was no way it was going to happen.

We spent all of last Friday, the entire weekend and all of this morning calling every place we could think of who might have been able to help us. We tried to get appointments at the Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn or Manhattan, but they had no appointments until August 10th, and obviously he couldn't wait that long, so we tried to get an appointment at the medical clinic attached to the hospital my mother works at. They refused to help him because he was over 21, so they referred him to another clinic on Staten Island, but they warned him when they referred him that that particular clinic never picks up their phone. True to form, they didn't pick up their phone, so we tried to call the Department of Health, and they didn't pick up either. By the time I reached the mobile unit, I was in near tears from frustration and near panic.

After I was taken in, I was given my HIV test and then the woman who tested me asked me some questions. I told her about what had happened with our diagnoses, the fact that my boyfriend is uninsured and the trouble we were having in finding a doctor who'd be willing to help us, and without batting an eyelash or saying a word, she opened a cabinet and handed me a bottle of azithromycin. I stared at the bottle agape and asked her if she could do that, and she replied that, by law, she would have had to give me the antibiotics anyway, and she told me to take them home to my boyfriend so that he could be treated. I literally burst into tears because I was just SO relieved. If we couldn't find a doctor who would help us, he would have been stuck with the infection until at least August 10th, and I was so worried that that was exactly what was going to happen.

Anyone who argues that Planned Parenthood is an "unnecessary" or "evil" organization obviously did not have the experience that I had. Whether they're your first choice for medical care or if you literally have nowhere else to turn, Planned Parenthood will always step up to the plate. The bottom line is, Planned Parenthood helped us when no one else would, and they literally saved our lives.


  1. Oh honey!!! I'm glad that the both of you are on your way to becoming healthier and that this story has a happy ending. Like most women in my generation, I tested positive for HPV. We were told to use condoms. We were responsible. But no one told us that HPV is the one STD that sneaks through condoms ... so there are more women my age and older who have this disease.

    Planned Parenthood is not only extremely necessary, but one of the greatest organizations out there. Hear! Hear!

    PS: I love you!

  2. I'm glad, too! It was an incredible shock, but it was a kick in the pants that I sorely needed. I actually had an abnormal Pap smear along with the chlamydia, so while chances are high that it's probably from the STI, my gyno still wants me to have a colposcopy. Ouch. T_T It's gotta be done, though!

    My story is one of many, and I think that if more people were aware of just how incredibly important an organization that Planned Parenthood is, there would be much less vitriol aimed in their direction.

    P.S. I love you too! :D

  3. Hooray for getting unsick!(I don't like the word healthier. I don't know why. Something about the way the word sounds when I say it. It doesn't feel good in my mouth. I'm weird.) And also, hooray for Planned Parenthood! I remember when my friend thought she was pregnant and we trucked out to Planned Parenthood every day for like a month to get a pregnancy test. Good times. (Not really. More like nerve-wracking times when we wished we had a car instead of having to walk 15 blocks from her apartment.)

    I also wanted to comment on that thing you said about working so hard to change the attitudes of others without realizing you haven't changed the attitude of yourself. I had that same realization recently in regards to the word slut. Namely, I only just realized the other night that I have been calling myself a slut sort of constantly. It's jarring, to realize that you hadn't realized that before. Anyway, I'm glad everything is turning out okay for you sweetpea. Love you.

  4. I am in 100% agreement with everything you said about being unsick and Planned Parenthood! They are without a doubt one of the most necessary organizations in existence today. I know so many people (women and men alike) who would not have been able to get help if they didn't exist.

    Unfortunately for us, internalized misogyny is a real problem. We're taught from day one that we're somehow different from teh menz, that we're not quite as worthy, that we're not quite as special, and it's difficult to overcome that. However, the fact that we're aware of it means that we're better equipped to work past it. :) Love you too! <3

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I agree with you. It's a stupid fucken stigma and I myself hate the lateral view that people take on when it comes to STI's. Goes back to Judea-Christianity spawning the notion of woman regulated to "purity". Yet, I did grow up accusing myself of being a "slut" on several grounds. But alas, I am free from that twisted warped male-imposed thinking.

    Great blog you have here!

  6. Daniela, thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you for the compliment! I'm glad that people are enjoying reading my posts. :)

    It took me years to overcome the idea that I was somehow inherently "dirty" once a month, and it took me even longer to overcome the societal idea that I was somehow "lesser than" or "gross" because I happened to like sex, and because I happened to enjoy sex outside of the confines of a traditional relationship. The effects of the patriarchal thought process are far-reaching, unfortunately, but thankfully there are women (and men!) like us who are working very, very hard to change that.