July 20, 2010
Last week instead of working from the comfort of home I brought my laptop to the health department while I waited for a good friend to get tested. It really isn’t the most fun place to be sitting for over two hours; no good reading material, painfully awkward and ancient public service announcements on loop, and ridiculously uncomfortable seats. The experience was fairly uneventful until the drive home, when my friend recounted what happened with the outtake nurse.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, the outtake nurse basically reviews your file, lets you know what the next step is, and sends you on your way. This wasn’t exactly what happened with Anna (name changed to protect the lectured). After curtly being called into her office, the nurse looked through Anna’s file and said “Wow, that’s a lot of sexual activity. What do you think of that?” Despite being caught off guard by that judgmental comment, Anna answered “Yes that is why I’m here. And I’m no longer going to have unprotected sex.” The nurse further laid on her moral judgment when she countered “That helps, but it’s not just about protection. It’s about number of partners and choosing them wisely.” This went on a bit longer, and the last thing that she asked that pisses me off is whether or not Anna plans to stay with any of her recent partners.
Now that the painful narrative of events is done, I will explain why this is so incredibly wrong in a broader context.
First of all, everyone should get tested. Are you sexually active? Get tested. If you have different partners and are using protection, get tested every 6 months; condoms don’t protect everything. Are you in a monogamous relationship? Get tested every year; you can never be too careful. Aside from that, viruses like HPV and HIV can be dormant in your system for months to years before manifesting symptoms or showing up on tests so it is important to be up to date on your tests.
It takes a lot of bravery to get tested. It requires complete honesty and disclosure about your sexual history. Every conquest must be accounted for. You need to be honest about whether or not protection was used, and they also usually ask if any of these encounters took place while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These might be details you don’t feel comfortable discussing with your close friends, let alone an intimidating nurse in a lab coat. I know many people who have had a lot of partners, with or without protection, and have never been tested. This is insane! For many STDs, a lot of symptoms don’t show up for a long time, meaning you could infect other people without even knowing it. Not only does this show a lot of irresponsibility and carelessness, but blatant disrespect for yourself and the people you’re physically intimate with. So despite the scariness of getting tested, it is absolutely necessary that it gets done!
Which brings me to my next point; Negative Nurse Nancy is doing a huge disservice to people by shaming them when they are taking a good, proactive step in protecting themselves and others. Moreover, when a person goes to the health department to get tested, they are not also going for a moral lecture and counseling about their sexual activity.
Sexuality is a very big personal decision. Some people’s partners are few and far between – they need to have a very close, intimate connection with someone before having sex. Some people enjoy having multiple partners and don’t need to be in a relationship. As long as people are using protection, it is their prerogative to do whatever the hell they want.
Now, I am not incredibly upset at the nurse for shaming my friend, as she is a very confident, self assured woman. Some close-minded, sanctimonious nurse isn’t going to scare her away from continuing to get tested or make her feel bad about her sexual activity. I’m concerned for the people who reluctantly get tested, have more sexual partners than my friend (she really had a negligible amount), who will be shamed away from getting tested or will lie about their amount of partners and whether or not they used protection. This doesn’t help anybody.
The moral of the story: Get tested regularly. And if you experience anything like Anna did, ask to speak with someone in charge at the clinic to let them know what happened; I can assure you their behavior is not allowed. What else could you do? If you feel comfortable, tell the person in question you don’t appreciate they way they are acting and it isn’t their place to give you a moral lecture. You could write a letter to the paper, write a blog! Anything to bring attention to the situation is good. Lastly, encourage your friends to get tested. Engage in open discussions with your partners/significant others about protection – even go get tested together! A big part of removing the scariness and stigma of going to the clinic to get tested is being frank and honest about sex. Seriously, if you are mature enough to be having sex you should be mature enough to be responsible about it.