Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
At 15 years old, I was naive, boisterous, and ignorant. I’d love to sugar-coat my naiveté, but unfortunately, I was clueless.
Not only was I a witless blockhead concerning the world in which I lived, I was convinced I knew what lie ahead.
Keep in mind, I’ve come quite a long way from those days of stolid bliss, but that progress was not without an incredible amount of trial and error.
At 15, I had not yet contracted an STD nor do I recollect having been exposed to many conversations about sexual health or STDs, in particular. The sex-ed I remember attending in 7th grade was laden with giggling pre-teens and pressures to remain abstinent. Maybe STDs were mentioned, but they certainly weren’t an emphasized risk – rather, pregnancy was at the top of our facilitator’s conversation.
That was also the time period during which my comfortable A/B breasts grew to an overflowing C cup – they were the talk of the school. The attention they received was devastating enough to make me walk around hunched over for years to come.
Consequently, I thought boys were idiots and sex, in my mind, would be saved for marriage – any information concerning the two in combination went in one ear and out the other.
Learning About STDs
It was around that time I became friends with Lisa*. Lisa lived in a quaint trailer-park set against the backdrop of our rural town.
My parents had recently moved our family out of the inner-city to an old farm house equipped with pet sheep, numerous barn cats, and horses.
Lisa was my first ‘trailer-park friend,’ and we spent a great deal of time listening to Hanson (MmmmBop!), having slumber-parties, and gossiping in her closet-sized bedroom.
One night in particular, our chit-chat turned to the neighbor girl whom I had briefly met a few days prior. She didn’t attend the same school we did (although, I can’t pinpoint why anymore), but Lisa said she was a whore.
Lisa was nice to her in person, and as a result, the girl regarded her as a confidant.
Lisa told me that the neighbor girl had slept with ‘all of the trailer-park’ and had just recently told her she had contracted herpes. In Lisa’s words, the girl was a slut and dirty – for whatever reason, those derogatory remarks, in particular, still stand out to me like it was yesterday.
It wasn’t until later and until Lisa had done the same to me, that I thought twice of her being kind to the girl’s face only to degrade her behind her back – a story for another day, I assure you.
Anyhow, for some time, I didn’t think much of the gossip I’d heard.
Lisa was my friend, and I had never known of anyone else with herpes, so I didn’t refute her story.
Between the time of being mortified about my large breasts and contracting an STD, I began to experiment with boys. I believed participating in manual sex and oral sex would still secure my virginity but with the couple of boyfriends I had, I got closer and closer to actual vaginal penetration.
Knowing I did not want to be pregnant in high-school, I did what I thought any responsible girl would do and started taking birth control, just in case.
Contracting an STD
It never occurred to me I should use additional protection or that I would be putting myself at risk.
I thought I already knew that only slutty girls who lived in trailer-parks contracted STDs.
I wasn’t slutty or dirty – I wasn’t having sex with multiple guys at one time, I was on birth-control, I lived in a nice house, my parents weren’t divorced, etc. – I was a ‘good girl’ and thus, I was safe. Horrible, right?
Well, to me, the horrible part is not necessarily that I was so ignorant. Quite honestly, we all think completely inaccurate and judgmental things from time to time.
The horrible part is that it wasn’t until long after I was sexually active I learned the truth.
Eroding Misconceptions and STD Stigma
It took a number of years after contracting an STD for me to stop believing the stigma about myself.
I had, without question, embraced what little I knew about STDs as truth; as such, I thought the same was true for me. If only slutty, dirty, trashy people contracted an STD, I must be slutty, dirty, and trashy.
What’s worse is I know I’m not alone in having embodied the stigma that gets placed on others as my own reality. It’s actually quite common to feel unlovable, disgusting, worthless, etc., after being diagnosed with an STD.
However, none of it’s really true.
STDs don’t define people.
People define people just as I had defined those who lived in trailer-parks.
What we do to one another is harmful and sad.
I’ve since learned how to overcome those initial seeds of ignorance – at least in so far as STDs and trailer-parks are concerned – I bought my first home shortly after graduating high-school in the aforementioned *mobile-home park. How’s that for karma? Notice my new word choice*. 🙂
The take-away from this story is not that I had a mean friend or eventually lived in a mobile-home, although, both of those things are true. It’s that genital herpes and all STDs are non-discriminating. They don’t care how much money someone makes, where they live, how many times they’ve had sex, what kind of sex they’re having, or even how often they bathe.
There are billions (yes, billions) of people who have contracted an STD or who are living with an STI/STD and they all come from completely different backgrounds.
Placing a label on people who have contracted an STD is not only unkind, it’s an indicator of one’s ignorance.
I was there once – we all go to that ignorant place from time to time – what’s important is that we learn and grow from our experiences, realize how or why we were wrong and share those lessons with others.
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When did you first hear about STDs? Did you have similar misconceptions about the kinds of people who contracted STDs? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!