A Chlamydia Story
Me? I’m not one of those girls. I don’t get STIs. I am a modern woman, who has sex responsibly, I have an IUD! I remember feeling so dirty, even as Richard, now a close friend, looked at me kindly while he told me I should get tested. This was my fault, I had done something wrong, and now I was one of those girls. But I really didn’t believe the diagnosis, so I ignored it. The scene with Coach Carr from Mean Girls flashed in my head: “You will get chlamydia and die.”
The google searches didn’t help – the words “serious permanent damage” screamed at me from my screen. Chlamydia often doesn’t present symptoms, and if he hadn’t told me what I had given him I don’t know when I would’ve found out.
A week after finding out about my chlamydia, I got a Facebook message from someone I had slept with a few months prior, before I’d started seeing Richard. I had crushed on him all throughout high school, and we had finally met up earlier that year. That night we had fooled around, but when we started having sex I had pushed him off of me because I didn’t feel well. We slept, and the next day got breakfast. This memory flashed in my head as I read the message where he apologized profusely, but suggested I get tested. “We barely had sex”, I thought. Yet this instance, which I so hoped I could ignore, was enough to give me an STI.
Now I was mad. He did this to me, he made me dirty. The thought of him made my skin crawl; I could feel the chlamydia sinking into my skin. I wanted to shower. At the time I was living abroad, far from my comforting gynecologist who I had been seeing since I was 14. Luckily, I had a friend whose father is a gynecologist, so he wrote me a prescription and I went to get the set of pills: 2 a day.
Once it was “dealt with,” I told friends, I laughed about it. It became a joke, and I tried to tell it more and more in order to desensitize myself to the shame I had felt the way you play off an awkward interaction– but even with close friends as I started becoming more comfortable with it I could see the way they looked around when we talked about it. They wanted to protect my privacy, my honor.
The chlamydia came back a few months later. I never went to the doctor, and had probably misunderstood the dosage. Most doctors recommend you get tested 30 days after treatment, in order to make sure the treatment worked as there is a possibility of it reappearing.
I felt the dirty feeling again, as though the chlamydia was sticking to me. This time, there were people that I had to tell: The boy I had started to like who I’d been seeing for a few months and my ex-boyfriend who had come into town to visit. Although they tried to be kind when I did inform them of my diagnosis, they too were scared, anxious about telling their parents, and mortified to speak to their family doctor. I remembered when I learned it the first time, and how I had thought of the person who gave it to them. Now I was really “that girl”.
My follow up test was negative: it flashed on my computer during a staff meeting at work. I quickly closed my screen.
This past year, I’ve learned that I am one of many. Chlamydia is the most common notifiable in the United States (CDC). Each year, the rates of chlamydia infections increases. It can be passed through vaginal, anal or oral sex. Almost half of the STIs that occur every year are from ages 15-24, and 1 in 4 Americans have an STI. Because of the lack of symptoms, chlamydia often goes untreated. Get tested! Talk about your experience with STIs!
I am the friend girls whisper to when they get their first STI, because they know I’ve gone through it. I tell them it’s nothing to be ashamed of, that we’re part of the club now. When you open up your story, you’d be surprised how many people have their own to tell.
I am embarrassed by my inability to post this under my own name. As far as I’ve come since that first day, I still feel that I cannot fully face the stigma surrounding STIs. I worry about jobs finding the article and people I’ve been with in the past reading it. However, writing this is a major step for me in terms of completely accepting my experience with chlamydia. While I have accepted that this is a part of life, which so many others have experienced, I fear what people will think. I hope that I can begin changing these conceptions in my own community, and I urge you all to do the same. Badass women get STIs, treat them, talk about them, and go on to run the world.
“2016 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Sept. 2017, www.cdc.gov/std/stats16/chlamydia.htm.