Originally published on Everyday Feminism
It was April Fool’s Day when my boyfriend told me he (now we) had genital warts. I laughed for thirty seconds until I realized he wasn’t joking.
He was my boyfriend for three months before I decided I was ready to have sex with him for the first time. He had had other partners before me so I asked him to get a STD and HIV test. He respectfully obliged and came back with a clean bill of health.
We hit the sheets, worry free.
A month later, my boyfriend went to get a little white bump checked out on his penis. The doctor casually told him it was a genital wart and proceeded to remove it with liquid nitrogen.
Half an hour later, after the April Fools fiasco conversation with my boyfriend, I realized that what I had assumed were shaving bumps in my pubic region were actually genital warts.
Now the worst thing you can do when you have an STD is hit google search. I learned quickly the STD was a form of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which every commercial on TV was telling me caused cervical cancer. I had taken the vaccination that cost me $400 out of my own pocket to take…how did this happen?
It didn’t seem right and it certainly didn’t seem fair.
I did what you were supposed to. I waited until I found ‘the one’ and asked him to get checked for sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
I felt dirty, infected, and terrified. Was I going to die of cervical cancer? Would I pass this onto my children?
I went to the doctor to get eleven genital warts removed and for weeks couldn’t look at my boyfriend, much less have sex. I looked down at my vagina and saw scarring, swollen and irritated skin…and I hated myself.
My boyfriend was a wreck. He felt ashamed, responsible, and incredibly guilty.
This put our relationship out for a rocky start, but we worked through it. We learned that Genital Warts is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and that 1 in 3 students on our university campus were infected. We learned that me having genital warts did not mean I would develop cervical cancer and that I would not pass HPV onto my future children.
Well, that was a relief. But I still had a knot in my stomach that made me feel dirty.
I walked through campus always wearing granny panties to avoid friction and irritation on my vagina and therefore sporting huge underwear lines. Every time someone looked at me I thought they would see my underwear lines and know something was off ‘down there’.
I visited the campus health clinic weekly for four months. The staff knew me there and I could swear that the looks they were giving me were those of disgust and judgment.
How could they not be disgusted with me? I was disgusted with myself.
It took me eight months to be able to look at myself in the mirror, nine months to be able to have relaxed sex with my boyfriend, and twelve months to be able to masturbate.
It took me two years to realize I wasn’t dirty.
Through reading online discussion posts about people dealing with genital warts, sharing my worries and feeling with my boyfriend, and confiding in a few trustworthy friends, I learned to love myself again.
I realized that STD’s (especially genital warts) are extremely common. Chances are that one in four of my friends has or has had a sexually transmitted disease or infection. Chances are they felt just as badly as I did.
After some time, I accepted that my body was not perfect. But who’s is? The ideal of having perfect health is disrupted the moment we have a headache, a paper cut or a genital wart.
Sexually transmitted infections should be treated just like other infections – with medical attention and care and not with judgement, stigma, and self-loathing.
Today I’m still with my boyfriend, in love, and in love with myself. I experienced an outbreak of genital warts just last week (triggered by stress and exhaustion) and the difference with how I dealt with it this time made the world of difference.
I wasn’t analyzing the facial expressions of the nurse helping me or looking at the mirror in disgust.
This is my body, this is me. If I don’t love it, how can I love the rest of me?
Have you had a STD and felt shame around it? Share how you dealt with it below in the comments.