Although she'd had sex without condoms before, for the most part, 26-year-old Lauren was careful. She carried condoms everywhere she went and made sure she got tested after every time she had unprotected sex.
"Everything was always fine, until last year." That's when Lauren, then 25, was diagnosed with chlamydia.
She cried at her positive test results. Having grown up in a town where abstinence was the only thing she was taught in school, she told me, "It seemed so disgusting. I never thought that someone like me would get something nasty like chlamydia."
It didn't help that the guy who gave it to her responded to her text by calling her a "crazy ugly bitch." Lauren was shaken; her spirit was broken.
At that point, most people would decide to curl up and hide away from the world. To take their antibiotics and forget this whole thing ever happened.
But, no, instead of curling up, Lauren decided to come forward. She became an ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association and made it her life's mission to break down the stigma surrounding STDs.
Here is her story.
The night it happened
When Lauren was 25 years old, she was having sex with a guy who decided to take the condom off halfway through their sexual encounter. (She does not specifically remember whether or not he told her this was going to happen, so she refrains from labeling it as "stealthing.")
She was bleeding for days after their encounter. Every time she peed, she'd see a trace of blood or some form of light discharge that wasn't present before her sexual encounter.
She kept hoping the blood was just a tear from the sex, but eventually, she decided she couldn't ignore it any longer. In her own words, "Enough was enough."
Lauren made an appointment with her gynecologist where he tested her for "everything under the sun that can grow inside a vagina."
She assumed, like most girls going to get tested, that her doctor was going to say everything was fine. Instead, she got a call that she had contracted chlamydia.
"I felt so disgusting in that moment," she said. "I asked him if it could be a false positive. To my dismay, he told me that false positives were rare."
Some of her tension was eased away when she learned about the fairly easy treatment. "Later that day, I picked up my prescription, an antibiotic," she explained. "One course of the antibiotic, and it all goes away."
Telling her partner
Now, she was left with a decision. Does she do the right-but-scary thing and tell the guys she had unprotected sex with about her results? Or does she just let it go?
For Lauren, telling the guys just seemed like the right thing to do "in case he didn't know, because many people don't," she said.
While most of her old partners reacted well and responded to her with their negative results, the one who she slept with most recently had a pretty horrific response.
Of all the possible reactions, Lauren didn't see this one coming at all.
"I never expected someone to react so badly," she said. But she's accepted the fact that his response was out of her control. "If you try to tell your partner, then you've already done your part. You don't control the reactions of other people."
"I truly believe that if someone tells you about their status of having an STD, then you should be grateful that they had the courage to tell you and try to prevent a public health issue," she explained. "The reason I told this guy and others was because I knew if they did not get tested and treated, then they would spread chlamydia to other innocent people."
Lauren also wanted to note that if you have been diagnosed with an STD and are nervous to tell your partner yourself, there are other options out there for you. You can either have your doctor do it for you, or you can use a website like DontSpreadIt.com.
Moving forward and making a difference
After her diagnosis, Lauren started talking about her experience with her friends. Much to her surprise, "it turned out some of them had it too."
The problem was, none of them had been talking to each other about it. "No one talks about it," she said.
That's when she felt inspired to make a difference.
"STDs are at an all-time high," she warned. "It's time we start talking about them."
Since her experience, Lauren has started volunteering as an ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), where the goal is to break down the stigma surrounding STDs.
"We have a long way to go, but if I got chlamydia, then you could get it too," she said. "In fact, one in two people get an STD by the age of 25 these days. That's you or one of your friends."
Even with something like chlamydia, Lauren explained that, without the stigma surrounding it, the disease is a lot less terrifying. "Not to minimize chlamydia, but if you do take an antibiotic, it does go away."
The bigger issue comes about when people are too afraid to get tested or to inform their partners that they should get tested. "If you don't, then you can have more serious consequences, like pelvic inflammatory disease and that can make you infertile," she said.
Lauren's new mission in life is to stop giving us a reason to be too embarrassed about our sexual health. She wants us to take charge of it and start inspiring others to do the same.
"Since this experience, I have tried to make something better of myself," she told me. "I really don't recommend unprotected sex at all anymore unless you've seen someone's test results and you're sure they are monogamous with you. And even then, you can't be sure."
If you find yourself in a situation like hers, where a guy tells you he wants to take the condom off mid-sex, she urges you to "probably leave."
That being said, if you do find yourself with an STD, she doesn't want you to let it ruin you. "Don't think of it as a punishment for having unprotected sex," she urged. "You can do something about it, and it's actually sexy when people take charge of their sexual health."
If you're looking for places to get tested, Lauren has a few options for you:
You can go to your gynecologist, your campus health center, or public health departments. With my insurance, the test was only $5. But many places do have free tests. Use YESmeansTEST.org to learn more stats and find a clinic near you.
Just one piece of advice for me to leave with you? Please, for the love of God, use condoms. And, if you don't, get tested. It's that simple.