Tested: STIs, Shame, and Reactive Healthcare

Yesterday I got tested at Planned Parenthood for STIs - I had a condom break and better safe than sorry. All in all it was a positive experience, and I'm glad to have a place I can go and feel not-shamed about the kind of sex I'm having (I didn't have to define any terms, either, which was kind of a relief... when I go to a doctor I'd like to not have to educate them!)

I asked a bunch of questions about sterilization (which I still really want to do) and about my nonhormonal birth control options. Apparently I was relaxed enough while getting tested for them to be surprised, as I'm not afraid of needles of blood.

Of course while there, I asked to be tested for a full panel of STIs, expecting that a full panel would cover everything I needed to know about to be safe as a porn performer and as a nonmonogamist.

Here's what I'd expect to be tested for, as a porn performer who sleeps with men who have sex with men:


What I'd love to be tested for as well, as best we can:

HPV (which I believe I was vaccinated against while in the UK, but I like to be sure)

What, when I asked for a full STI panel, were they going to test me for?

Gonorrhea and chlamydia.

When I underlined that I was a porn performer who had sex with men who had sex with men, they added HIV. I had to pretty firmly ask for syphilis to be covered, citing the rise of syphilis among adult performers. I want you to keep in mind that a porn performer was JAILED for "knowingly spreading syphilis", and while Talent Testing now includes syphilis in their full panel, they didn't always. Planned Parenthood felt that even though I engage in what is called "risky behaviour", I wasn't a high enough risk for syphilis- they would only test me if I showed symptoms. That scares me, especially with something like syph, which is often asymptomatic for long periods of time. I'd rather not wait til my skull is being gnawed away before I get treated- and syphilis is most easily treated within a year of getting it.

I realized that most people would not be honest about the sex they're having, or who they're having it with. They might not know the status of their partners. They might feel ashamed to ask to be tested in the first place, something I think isn't helped by having to wait until you're showing symptoms. Never mind that there are too many cases where people with HIV are murdered when they tell people, which is enough to scare anyone off of honesty. You can be thrown into jail for not telling your sexual partner you have HIV, even if you use a condom, making the risk incredibly low. Ads about STIs are scary, threatening, personifying people with STIs as insects or violent dictators.

Even the sex positive community is often not well-equipped to handle people with positive test results. People admitting they have HPV or Herpes 1 is still pretty rare, and I get around. I personally stay tested as best I can, but with less and less funding towards places like Planned Parenthood, it's becoming more difficult to know for sure what my status is. There's this erroneous belief that condoms prevent you from getting anything, or that only penis-in-vagina or penis-in-anus is risky. GONORRHEA OF THE EYE, PEOPLE. It exists. That's why I worry about AB 1576, or mandated condoms in porn. And that's why I worry about how shocked and scared people are of bug-chasing porn. I think as long as having an STI is dangerous and taboo, we're going to see people flocking to risky behaviours, either for excitement or out of fear and shame.

We need to realize that people cheat in their relationships. People don't always tell you when they have something, and they may not always know. They may also think they're getting tested for everything, and really only getting tested for 2-3 possibilities. Getting tested for STIs should just be a habit - I slipped out of the habit of being tested every three months and I regret it, because it was a good habit to be in. I'd love to see people talking honestly and openly about their status, no longer afraid of rejection or violence. I've realized that if I end up discovering I have an STI it's not the end of the world. Look at Natasha Lyonne, who has hepatitis C. She's doing all right. Issac Asimov died of AIDS. Perhaps the more we destigmatize STIs, the more we can push for proactive rather than reactive healthcare. Knowledge is power, after all.

Categories: activism, best of, personal, reflection, safer sex, sex myths, sexuality

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