What it’s like to have a Disease from having Sex

Having an STD test is a common and varied experience. We reached out via social media and asked people to share their HPV tests and deeper STI stories.

Pubic lice: “It was shell shocking”

I found a pubic louse on my stomach. I was horrified and freaked out because I hate insects. My instinct was to run to my mum in the house. I shaved off all of my body hair. The thought of INSECTS living on my body doesn’t please me. I searched online for a treatment and got the shampoo they recommended. It was shell-shocking because I didn’t see this coming. I always use protection and get an STD at-home test, but prevention is not possible. I was ashamed of myself. But I realised it was very common and had nothing to be ashamed of. —Anonymous

“I had no symptoms at all.”

I had sexual relations with my best friend, and she found out she had chlamydia, so I went to get checked with a couple of other people we had slept with. The STD treatment didn’t work the first time, so I had to have it a second time. The boyfriend I had at the time of being diagnosed with an HPV DNA test broke up with me … possibly more [because of] the fact that it was with a female … I told my current boyfriend that I didn’t want to sleep with him until I knew I was clean. His response was quite possibly the best response I could’ve asked for. It was too embarrassing to tell my family, but we kept it between our friends.

We would all go and get checked together, then go shopping.

I found telling my boyfriend at the time incredibly difficult as our relationship wasn’t the smoothest at this point, and I thought that if we broke up, he would go around and tell all the people I knew at college. The process of being diagnosed isn’t as bad as you think. I did the swab myself in the clinic’s toilets and chatted with the nurse. I had no symptoms at all. If it hadn’t been for my friend telling me, I wouldn’t have known anything was wrong. Always tell the people you have slept with no matter how embarrassing, as often the impact of the STD gets worse over time. —Anonymous

 “We were monogamous.”

I was diagnosed with chlamydia in 2015 and took an HPV HPV-type test in 2016. And then also herpes 2 in 2018. My three experiences were very different. I contracted chlamydia from an unfaithful partner I had been with for two years. Because we were “monogamous”, I had no reason to suspect an STD. I had no symptoms and only got my diagnosis when they ran an STD panel test at my annual vaginal exam. When I got an HPV test, I had a genital wart and went to a student health clinic that did not file insurance. My Christian parents are very strict, and I feared that they would disown me if they knew I’d had Sex. The Sexoctor initially told me I had cancer, and it wasn’t until I visited my local Planned Parenthood that I realised HPV Lab testing wasn’t as big of a deal.

When I contracted herpes, it was the worst.

I was in a monogamous relationship with someone and thought I was being responsible. We had both had STD Home tests before deciding to have unprotected Sex. I thought this was from scratching too hard. I went to three doctors for the “yeast infection” and two for the flu-like symptoms before one of them finally looked at my vagina. She immediately recognised the lesions and did a vaginal swab, which was so painful that I screamed.

This was on a Thursday, and over the weekend, I had a fever of 101℉ and so much pain that I could barely walk. I thought I was dying. I had to tell my parents because I lived alone and had no one to care for me, and I couldn’t care for myself. They were surprisingly supportive. As soon as I got on medication, my symptoms improved, and I now take a daily dose to prevent an outbreak. —Anonymous, female, 21

“Sex became painful.”

Sex with my husband suddenly became painful, and I suffered for months because I thought there was something wrong with me. My husband began to have symptoms, so we both got a test. He found out that he had chlamydia and let me know. So, it was not surprising when I got my diagnosis. He had two weeks of antibiotics, and I had three. While we were treated months ago, I am still having strange discharge and pain during Sex and when usingSexmpons. It has affected the relationship between my husband and me because I am still suffering from related symptoms.

The trust between us is because of the nature of our relationship. It was surprising to hear that my husband didn’t know that you can contract STIs from oral Sex. Also, I think there needs to be more discussion about discharge. My discharge had suddenly changed, and I could not find any information that was close to what I have other than forums with questions from other women that were left unanswered. —Anonymous

 “My results came back negative.”

I had to do a mandatory urine test for a medical examination [and I] received a call back a few days later saying I had to come in for a follow-up. The doctor let me know that they found chlamydia and gonorrhoea in my urine. He immediately got treatment (injection and one pill). I didn’t have a partner at the time, but my previous partner did tell me that he was experiencing some abnormalities on his penis and told me to get an STD Profile test. When I did some blood tests, they came back negative. I did not think to do the urine. Only a couple of my friends knew, and there was no family. AI should be more careful with partners and protection now, but it isn’t easy. —Anonymous, cisgender woman, 21

 “I never told anyone.”

I found out I had chlamydia just before I dated my boyfriend. Still, I got an HPV Type test when it got serious, but I never told anyone (him, friends, family) the result. I took my medicine in secret and began to have Sex without a condom once I was clean. I told him my tesSexas negative. Since I have a “sex education role” towards my friends, I couldn’t admit I made a mistake, and I never told my family because they are not open about sexuality in general. I had to face all this alone and spent a lot of money on the test. It was a very stressful moment. I was not even 19, and in my country, when you turn 18, all these tests aren’t free anymore. —Anonymous, woman, France, 20

“My boyfriend had it in his hand.”

At the time, my boyfriend found a small bump on his hand. He got a diagnosis of herpes and was extremely upset. I went to the doctor to ask for advice. She said, “You’re probably going to get herpes if you stay together, but don’t worry, lots of people have herpes, and it’s not that bad.” I decided to stay with my boyfriend, and a few months later, I felt flu-like symptoms, followed by painful blisters on my labia. When I went back to the doctor, she confirmed, yes, it was herpes. The side effects of the medication I was taking were terrible. I felt nauseous, feverish and completely spaced out. Since then, I’ve never taken medication. I felt pretty bad at first, dirty and ashamed, and my boyfriend was again very upset and felt guilty for giving me herpes on an STD Swab test.

I wondered how [I would] deal with dating and telling people in the future. But as time went on, that relationship ended, and I dated plenty of other people who either also had herpes or who weren’t worried about it.

It became a competition—I’d see how people reacted to me telling them and then know if I wanted to keep seeing them.

Later in queer relationships, I found out about using latex gloves for safe Sex, and I felt upset that the first doctor I went to didn’t Suggest that. Now I don’t feel as much shame: I’ve told many friends and lovers … These days, my symptoms are much less severe, but they still affect my daily life. Sometimes, I need to take time off work due to the flu-like symptoms that can come with a herpes outbreak. On the other hand, having herpes has forced me to take better care of myself: less alcohol and chocolate, more sleep, and less stress, as those are some of the things that trigger outbreaks for me. It seems like herpes outbreaks are also related to my period, often coming just before my period or during/after if I use sanitary pads. —Anonymous, non-binary, 38

 “A brush with cancer”

My annual pap smear came back abnormal. I waited 6 months, as per protocol and went for another one. Abnormal again. I went for an HPV Variant testing and tested positive for strains 16, 18 and 31—all very high-risk strains known for causing cervical cancer. I’d been dating the same person for 5 years. Not knowing where the virus came from or why it had popped up caused a major strain in our relationship.

I had to undergo a cone biopsy under general anaesthesia to remove CIN3, which was afterwards identified as cancerous. It was a massive shock to my system—not necessarily the op (it was sore and uncomfortable, and I bled for about 2 months afterwards) but the emotional impact, which I did not expect. I was insecure and felt broken, like I would never be whole or myself again. It’s now two years post-op, all my pap smears have come back clean, and I’m only now feeling I’m getting back on track.

The stigma about STIs is real. For a long time, it was too embarrassing to talk about it. Now, however, I’m the first one to warn my girlfriends about regular testing and to share my brush with cancer, hoping it will help fewer people go through the experience. —Anonymous, female, South Africa, 29

HPV, chlamydia, and herpes:

“The stigma around disease is harmful.”

I was 20 when I got my diagnosis of chlamydia in an STD Profile Test. But the worst of it was that I was also detected as a carrier in the HPV DNA Test. My gynaecologist’s nurse called me. She sent the prescription to my pharmacy and told me to abstain from Sex for a week. I had little to no information and felt very “Sexty” and that I had acted “slutty” and cried myself to sleep. I informed my then-partner and the other three partners I had been with since my last screening. My then-partner dumped me, even after he tested negative. Two of the other men dodged my phone calls for weeks. Only one person, still a friend 10 years later, answered that he had been screened a week prior and was negative.

I hadn’t screened for HPV at the initial visit, so I went to my university clinic. The nurse raised her eyebrows at me and gave me a lecture. Years later, as a medical professional, I realised she was wrong to judge. She should have encouraged my friends and me to screen regularly. The man who broke up with me eventually got a diagnosis of HPV. It is very common in an STD Urine Test, but it has faced much stigma since. He eventually apologised and described his struggles with the stigma, which was healing.

I’ve had more patients cry in my office about herpes than HIV, which is life-threatening. But the stigma around STIs is harmful. I never say “clean” or “dirty”. I want everyone to know that all STIs are manageable and that most are curable. —Anonymous, woman, 29.