[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.