Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Saurabh Sethi, MD, MPH
This guest post was written by one of our contributors, STD Testing Expert and Founder & President of Boston Microfluidics, Brandon T. Johnson.
On February 24th of this year, Boston Microfluidics officially hired a new CEO, which means, for the first time in a long time, I’m NOT the CEO. I have mixed feelings, of course, but mostly I’m excited that we finally found someone we felt truly comfortable turning the business over to, and I’m relieved that I won’t be the person who is ultimately responsible for whatever emergency is bound to pop up at 2am on some future Saturday.
This transition, though, has left me asking myself that age-old question: ‘What should I be when I grow up?’
I’m not sure I know, and I’m not in a rush to answer that question just yet. Right now, I’m focused on making sure the new CEO has everything he needs and that the transition goes smoothly. But that hasn’t stopped be from musing about the last time I asked the same question – I definitely didn’t think I’d end up becoming ‘The STD Testing Guy.’
Realizing I’d Become The STD Testing Guy
The first time I realized who I had become to the people in my social circles, it was a bit of a shock. I was at one of those bastions of millennial hipsterdom – a Mad Men party – talking to the cute girl I’d just met. We were making small talk, and I felt like things were going well. I was listening and laughing as she told me who she knew, where she’d been, and what she did for a living. All too soon, it was my turn to start sharing what I did.
As Jenelle can tell you, when your business is STDs, this can seem like a scary question. No matter how people feel about sexual health and how appropriate it is to talk about in a party setting, telling someone you are working on making home tests for STDs always gets a strong reaction.
Reigning in My Excitement
For years, I’d jump into the subject and talk about it with that unrestrained enthusiasm that comes with both starting your own company and realizing that it’s ok to talk about sexual health out loud, in public. It wasn’t always well-received, but that probably had more to do with my delivery than the subject itself. Often, I was so excited, I would talk right over people trying to ask questions and understand exactly what it was I was doing.
After a while, my friends got sick of hearing about it, and I tried to reign in my excitement. I also noticed that some people would (very incorrectly) assume that because I was CEO of a startup, I was either rich or going to be rich in, like, maybe a couple of months? This freaked me out, and my friends were telling me to be careful because ladies who liked me might be interested in what I did and not who I was.
Talking about Sexual Health
After that, I tried avoiding the subject of my job title and focused on talking to people about sexual health in general. I’d tell people I’d studied engineering and was working on developing a home STD test for a startup and quickly ask what they thought about home testing.
This is when I finally started listening to people and found out that most people really wanted to talk about STDs and getting tested. Almost everyone had spent a lot of time thinking about it, but not all of them felt comfortable discussing it. Once I let them know that 1) it’s totally ok to talk about STDs, testing, and sexual health, and 2) whether it’s ok or not, I talk about it all the time to anyone who will listen; people really started to open up.
Learning through Others’ Experiences with STD Testing
I think this was the period of time I also learned the most about STD testing and sexual health. I knew lots of data (did you know that at least 20 million people will get an STD this year, and at least 50 million already have herpes simplex type 2?), but I didn’t know how people thought about STDs and getting tested. I didn’t know what it was like for so many of them to go in to get tested, and I had no idea how all of this affected their lives.
I was fascinated. I couldn’t get enough. Every time I went out, every party I went to, virtually every time I met someone new, I’d steer the conversation toward their experience with sexual health and getting tested. I wanted to hear as many stories as I could. I was back to always talking about STDs, but this time, I was listening instead of babbling on about how great home testing was going to be.
I got so good at listening and shifting the focus onto the person I was talking to that I could breeze through my role and title without changing the tone of the discussion at all. I had finally figured out how to have a discussion we could all enjoy without holding back or making people uncomfortable. I had it all figured out.
That is, until I met Natalie at that Mad Men party.
The STD Guy?
She was witty and confident, and her description of her job was as charming as she was. She set the bar pretty high, but I’d had so much practice at this point, I was confident I could keep things rolling smoothly.
I might have gotten five words out when a look of recognition spread over her face, and with a sharp intake of breath she said, ‘I know you. You’re the STD guy!’
The whole party seemed to stop. I don’t think either of us had realized how loudly she’d exclaimed this, and even though half of the people at the party had known me for years, the whole place seemed to be shocked at the idea. I had certainly lost all sense of wit and was rendered speechless by her declaration.
Lost in shock, I felt my friend Anna grab my arm with a calming warmth that always sets me at ease. Anna owns the room wherever she goes, and we were in her home, so she had even more influence here. She gave a charming laugh that told everyone she was laughing with me, and with a smile she said, ‘I think you mean STD TESTING guy, right Nat?’
Moving Past Stigma and Fear
It didn’t take long after that for me to wear the title as a badge of honor. Like so many things related to this subject, once you realize what is really going on, all of the fear and shame and anxiety go away. I was worried I would be labeled ‘The STD Guy’ forever, right up until the moment someone actually called me that. While ‘The STD Testing Guy’ is more accurate, once I was faced with the reality of the title, I stopped worrying about it all together and was happy for it!
I don’t really care what people call me at this point. I’m just happy to see people talking about sexual health and taking an active role in being a responsible sexual partner.
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This guest post was written by Brandon T. Johnson (aka: The STD Testing Guy), Founder, President, and former CEO of Boston MicroFluidics (BMF). Brandon has dedicated his career to, you guessed it, STD testing. After studying Biomedical Engineering at Boston University College of Engineering, Brandon started BMF with the idea that anyone should be able to test themselves and their partner(s) in the privacy of their own home. He and the rest of the team at BMF are working to make STD testing quick, easy, and convenient.
For more information about BMF and their STD testing product, KnowNow, visit Boston MicroFluidics.
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Do you talk about sexual health and STD testing at parties or with friends? Do you think sexual health and STD testing should be talked about more casually? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!