Dating in the era of “swipe left” is hard enough as it is without having to worry about STDs. Yeah, we were all taught the risks of sexually transmitted diseases in health class back in eighth grade, but how many of us were actually paying attention at the time? (I’m not even sure I fully understood what sex was back then, if we’re being honest.) Or maybe, like me, you just assumed that the only people who had STDs were promiscuous, unintelligent, careless or on drugs. Smart people didn’t get STDs. People who went to college and paid their bills on time and took care of themselves didn’t get STDs. Boy, was I wrong.
What are STDs?
Before we get into the details of how I ended up with an STD— me, the responsible one, the one that always looked twice before crossing the street and never left home without hand sanitizer, let’s do a quick refresher course on STDs. STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases, are a category of infections diseases that spread from person to person through sexual contact. There are some of the most common contagious diseases on the planet, with over 20 million new cases popping up each and every year. Common STDs you’ve probably heard about are chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea and HIV/AIDs just to name a few. Severity it STDs range from those that are cured with a simple antibiotics prescription, to those that are incurable and have lifelong symptoms, to those that are incurable and cause death. Yes, death. So they’re no joke, and you really have to be careful and protect yourself if you want to be safe.
Genital herpes—Initial visits to physicians’ offices: United States, 1966–2013 statistics from cdc.gov
Meeting Mr. Right
Fast forward to April the year I turned 26. I had graduated college, gotten a great entry-level job, had my own apartment and generally had my life together. The only thing missing was a significant other. So I ventured into the world on online dating, not really expecting much, but hoping to find Mr. Right nonetheless. And to my utter surprise, I found him after only having to endure three dates with completely awful Mr. Wrongs. It was magic. It was a miracle. It was perfect— until suddenly it wasn’t. About three months into the relationship, I developed an extremely painful rash “down there.” These harsh, red, irritated, inflamed chicken pox-like spots appeared with a vengeance. They were itchy. They were painful. It hurt when I moved. It hurt when I peed. I knew I was in trouble.
In a panic, I booked an appointment with my gynecologist. What was wrong with me? Where did these spots come from? If I had been smart, I’d have realized what was going on right away. But like i said, I considered myself to be smart, responsible, careful. The thought that I had an STD never even crossed my mind. So when the doctor declared I had genital herpes, I almost fell off my chair. Herpes? Genital herpes? How on earth did I have herpes? I had actually had a long, intense, awkward conversation with Mr. Right about his health the first time he proposed having sex without a condom. I blatantly refused until he promised me up and down, backwards and forwards that he was clean.
And now here I was, sitting in a flimsy dressing gown on a table covered in crinkly paper facing the diagnosis of genital herpes. What was going through my mind? For starters, murder. I wanted to kill Mr. Right. He had lied to me about his STD. He had turned me from a responsible upstanding woman into trashy damaged goods overnight. He was going to pay.
"He had turned me from a responsible upstanding woman into trashy damaged goods overnight"
I had it all planned out in my head. I was going to call him up and ask him to come over to my place as calmly as possible. Then I was going to play nice when he walked in so that he suspected nothing. Then I was going to launch my attack. What really happened is I got him on the phone and immediately burst into tears. I loved this man. I was mad at him, yes, but I also wanted his support. I was blubbering so hard, I couldn’t even manage full sentences. He was on his way to my place before I hung up the phone.
The murderous confrontation I imagined never happened. Instead, he calmly and rationally listened to me talk about my day at the doctor’s office. He was shocked, upset and apologetic as I accused him of lying to me, of infecting me with a nasty STD, of wanting to have sex without a condom when he knew perfectly well what was going to happen. He was so calm. Why wasn’t he embarrassed? Why wasn’t he ashamed? Why was he just sitting there comforting me with a look of shock on his face instead of running for the hills? Didn’t he know we were through? Didn’t he know I was about to murder him?
I spent that entire night waiting for his confession so that I could yell, scream, throw a fit, maybe even throw a punch. But as it turned out, he had no more idea what was going on than I did. It took multiple trips to the doctor’s office to discover that Mr. Right is somewhat of an anomaly. He doesn’t have genital herpes himself in the sense that he experiences the symptoms of the disease, but he’s a carrier for genital herpes and can pass it on to others. Being a fine, upstanding, responsible guy himself (probably why I had fallen head over heels for him), I was the first girl he had had unprotected sex with. He didn’t know to warn me. He didn’t know he was putting my health in danger. He didn’t know he had an STD.
"He didn’t know to warn me. He didn’t know he was putting my health in danger. He didn’t know he had an STD"
I wish I could say his ignorance made it easier for us to deal with the situation; unfortunately, I felt like damaged goods, and he felt guilty. And in a cruel twist of fate, we had to be more careful than even when having sex. Because even though he gave the disease to me initially, it was actually possible for me to give it back to him in a way that would cause him to finally experience symptoms. So that meant condoms, condoms and more condoms, even after we got engaged— even after we got married. Having a partner with an STD, particularly an incurable one like genital herpes, is a struggle. There’s no impromptu sex. If we’re out somewhere and there’s no condom, it’s not going to happen. I can’t risk spreading my STD back to him. I won’t let it happen. I’ve long since gotten over my shame and guilt. I’ve long since gotten over the idea that only sluts or whores get STDs. And even though I have this incurable, permanent condition that flares up from time to time, I feel lucky. I found Mr. Right. I found someone that was willing to deal with what happened head on.
Once we sorted through the details and realized I was the one that could spread the STD back to him, he was supportive and understanding. He was never grossed out, never scared to get intimate with me. But I can only imagine that if we hadn’t been nearly engaged at the time that this all happened that it might have been a completely different situation.
Safe Sex Matters
It had never occurred to me that it was possible to get an STD, and an incurable one at that, if you followed the rules and asked all the right questions. I know my story isn’t the norm— being an asymptomatic carrier for genital herpes is extremely rare. And I got the happy ending with Mr. Right, the white dress, picket fences and all that, just with a slight caveat. I’d do it all again, too, if I had the chance. Just know how important it is to be safe in today’s world. Ask your partner about their sexual history and sexual health. If possible, take your partner to do STD testing. It’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation. It’s going to be awkward. But if it means you can avoid contracting a devastating STD, it’s worth it. If the guy bolts because you asked him a few personal questions, he isn’t worth it in the long run. And if you already have an STD and are looking for love, know that the right guy is out there and that you can be safe.
How to Know if You Have an STD video from plannedparenthood.org
I’ve been with Mr. Right for ten years now, and he still only carries herpes asymptomatically. It’s possible. The right person, the one that loves you and wants to be with you, will deal with the inconveniences and will make the exceptions to be safe. If Mr. Right had told known to tell me about his condition, I still would have been with him. I would have made the sacrifices needed to stay with him and stay safe. The right guy will. Wait for him. Remember, you can always “swipe left.”
Love the article? Do not forget to read "The Love of My Life Has Manic Depressions" as well. It is a life experience from a women who marry a guy with Manic Depression.