This Is How You Tell Someone You Gave Them An STD
It's a tale as old as time: Guy and girl fall in love, guy lies to and cheats on girl, girl breaks up with guy and becomes a cold hearted, guarded version of herself as some kind of PTSD survival mechanism.
OK, so maybe it's not a tale as old as time, but I have heard this story before.
For the longest time, I felt that it would be stupid for someone to close themselves off emotionally just because of one bad relationship. That is, until this cliché story became my story, and that's exactly what I did.
That's when I realized becoming guarded is not so much a misguided choice as it is a psychological response to emotional trauma. That is how I became who I am today, almost three years after the end of my last relationship: an emotionally unavailable female in her 20s who struggles to engage in expectation-less relations with equally emotionally unavailable f*ckboys, all so I can still get laid regularly while being single.
According to my other single friends, I'm even more "normal" now than I was when I still believed that relationships were made of sunshine and rainbows and happiness.
So here I am today: the quintessential guarded single girl who has slowly collected a handful of partners to sleep with. The guys who gradually became what I called my “rotation” were either friends of mine or someone I had met through a close friend. It somehow felt less risky if I was connected socially to the guys I was sleeping with, almost as if having mutual friends forced us all to be safer or more selective about our partners. I got screened for STDs every couple of months and continued coming up clean, which reinforced the idea that I had a good thing going.
In retrospect, this was incredibly stupid because unprotected sex is still unprotected sex, but hey, you live and you learn, right? Regardless, I was pretty happy and entertained for the better part of three years.
The no-feelings, casual sex situation kept me pretty happy and very entertained … until the day I got an STD. I wasn't being consistently safe with all of my partners, and since we were all sleeping around, I had known that there was a chance this could happen.
I can make a bunch of excuses as to why I wasn't having safer sex (condoms suck, I was on birth control, sometimes I was drunk and other times I was caught up in the moment), but the bottom line is that I was being reckless.
To say that I was disappointed in myself was an understatement. I was a smart girl making incredibly stupid choices when it came to my sex life. I knew damn well that the rates of STDs were continuously rising – especially in San Francisco, where I lived – and yet I fooled myself into thinking that if I didn't sleep with strangers, I was being safe enough.
I was at a birthday brunch when I got an email saying that I had tested positive for Chlamydia.
I sat there in silence, enduring a internal panic attack while my friends drank mimosas and laughed. While I am not proud to admit this, I knew in that moment that I had two options: 1) I could stop sleeping with the guys in my rotation, get cured, and deny ever having had an STD going forward, or 2) I could tell all of them that I had potentially put them at risk and be forced to grit my teeth through whatever verbal or social backlash resulted from my honesty.
I knew immediately that as a responsible adult, I would do the latter, but I truly could appreciate why someone in my shoes might make the wrong choice out of fear and say nothing. Let me just say that I respect anyone who has ever had to disclose a positive STD screening to someone.
Even though it is the right thing to do, it's a difficult conversation to have. It requires respect from both parties, some courage, and also trusting that they won't use your private medical information against you or broadcast it to the world.
Instead of just one or two people, I had to disclose my test results to a handful of guys. Regardless of how I got it, there was also a high probability that I was responsible for giving it to someone else. This is the part that really bothered me. Poker face, no attachment act be damned – at my core, I care deeply about people and knowing that I accidentally put someone else as risk made me feel pretty sick to my stomach.
I was embarrassed and angry with myself.
For some reason, I felt the most guilty about this guy Brett* because I thought he was the least likely to have given it to me. He was also farthest removed from my social circle, and we had never discussed the obvious risks of both of us sleeping with other people. I knew it was wrong to send this kind of news in a text, so I drove to his house and sat in my car trying to prep myself for the uncomfortable face to face conversation ahead.
I'm usually level-headed in a crisis, but as I sat there trying to figure out the most upfront way to deliver the news, I broke down and started to cry. I never thought I would find myself in this situation, and it was humiliating to have to tell someone that you probably gave them an STD.
I also had no idea how he was going to react. Was he going to say horrible things to me or kick me out of his apartment? Would he be cold and make me feel even worse than I already did?
In that moment, anything seemed possible, so as I asked to him to let me inside to talk. I braced myself for the worst possible reaction. But then, something really crazy happened: He let me into his apartment, I explained that I chlamydia and that I may have given it to him too, and he high-fived me.
I'm not kidding; he actually high-fived me.
I was nervous and didn't know where to begin, but when I finally spit it out that I tested positive for the clap, I saw genuine relief flood his face. His tense body language relaxed. I think he maybe even smiled, and then he reached over to give me a high-five. I sat there in shock as he explained that out of all the STDs, at least Chlamydia wasn't life altering and that it goes away with medication.
I had already known that, but even the best-case scenario that I had hoped for while prepping outside in my car was way worse than the optimistic, mature adult he was being. I couldn't believe it. As I sat there still crying in residual shock and embarrassment, he went on to tell me that everything was going to be fine and there was no use crying over spilled milk.
He talked briefly with me about who else I was sleeping with and how I found out. There were no angry accusations or finger pointing; he admitted that while he believed he was clean, there was always a possibility that he had given it to me so he would get tested and be in touch with his results. Lastly, he thanked me for having the balls to talk to him in person and for being honest about it. He gave me a hug and sent me on my way.
As I left his apartment stunned, I felt relief wash over me. That was exactly how someone you're sleeping with should react if you have to tell them that you gave a non life altering STD. Okay, maybe they don't have to high-five you, but staying calm and not placing blame is what you should do in this situation.
After all, it's a mutual decision to be irresponsible, and no amount of screaming or anger can undo something that has already been done. His unruffled response single handedly changed my perspective on the conversations that would follow with the other guys and even on how I felt about myself. It allowed me to let go of some of the shame I was feeling from getting an STD and remember that we are all accountable for our choices. He helped me see the silver lining in that we had gotten lucky because it curable by taking a few pills. To quote him directly, he said Chlamydia was “the best of the worst.”
As I drove away, a second wave of emotion hit me and the relief was replaced by sadness. I was sad because I was so much more grateful for the way he responded and I hadn't properly thanked him. Now that he would see me as more problematic than fun, I would also maybe never get another chance to do so.
It became abundantly clear in that moment that he was a good person who had chosen to treat me with respect when he could've easily chosen to be angry instead. It was pretty disturbing for me to realize that even though we had been sleeping together, I didn't know him that well. I left that conversation knowing that he was the kind of person you would want in your corner if sh*t were to hit the fan. Good people are hard to come by, and I had managed to miss out on one because of how detached I had become.
For anyone else who is shying away from emotions and relationships to mitigate risk: participating in no strings attached, casual sex doesn't eliminate the risk of getting hurt or hurting other people.
Know that the risk is actually higher because when sh*t does hit the fan, casual partners aren't obligated to stay and help clean up the mess. I'm not condemning casual sex, but I know that I got really lucky with Brett's high-five and positive attitude. (Read: my other conversations did not go so well).
If you decide to forgo looking for a relationship and have none monogamous sex, you owe it to yourself to be smart about it. I was able to learn from my mistakes without doing any permanent damage, but not everyone gets so lucky. This was a huge wake up call for me; I now have an opportunity to be safer, appreciate for the next person who comes along and hopefully remind others that even if we know the people we're sleeping with, none of us are truly safe from STDs.