The doctor called to tell me that my sexually transmitted disease screening results were in. Although her tone was rushed and annoyed, she drew out the suspense as though this were the elimination finale of a dance competition. Numb with anxiety, I played along, making polite noises to cover my fears that my life was about to change forever. After making it clear that she resented me rejecting a consultation and simply opting for lab tests, she let me know the outcome.
HSV1 (“oral herpes”)…negative.
HSV2 (“genital herpes”)…negative.
HIV…negative…but… I drew in my breath wondering about that “but.” WTF? She explained that the lab had taken it upon themselves to perform some super special HIV test, that she would never have asked for, and the results wouldn’t be in for a couple of more weeks. But basically, I tested negative for the things we asked for. The doctor implied that I had wasted her time with my anxiety and that testing for STD’s is not necessary for someone as “low risk” as I am.
This is not my regular practitioner. The ARNP that I normally see has been out of the office for a week. I miss her. If I had been able to talk to my GP about my concerns, I think all would have been well. She knows me and my poly family. She has always treated me with respect and care for my triggers around health care and sexuality. She once took 90 minutes to personally walk me through a pelvic exam. I should have waited for her to be back, but I needed to know as soon as possible, so instead I got this condescending and ignorant doctor.
It took several conversations with the nurse to get my desires across to the triage nurse. I explained my risk factors and expressed my level of anxiety. I declined to come in because I would have to bring 3 young children with me and I knew that it wouldn’t reassure me the way that lab tests would. What was there to look at anyway? I was asymptomatic by all accounts. They probably thought they could just talk me down.
Instead, I think I came close to making the nurse cry. I know that I was shaking, furious that anyone would have the audacity to claim that they knew more about my emotional state, my sexuality, or my body than I do. I hung up and the doctor called, making nice and insisting that of course the lab was always an option if I really wouldn’t do the right thing.
I understand that medical professionals don’t want to order unnecessary tests, but I can’t understand why my request to get tested was such a power struggle. I’m also not sure why I’m seen as low risk for STD/STI. I have unprotected sex with partners who in turn have sex with other people. In reality, I probably am fairly safe. I am usually comfortable with my level of risk, but from time to time I need to know where I stand. This current round of anxiety was based in part to reacting to one of my partners starting a new sexual relationship, as well as knowing that I have had some exposure to STD/STI recently. Also, I hadn’t been tested in 2 and a half years. I needed to know.
I’m curious what my medical clinic’s STD risk factors are. No one ever asked me. I imagine that as a 40 year old married woman with 5 kids, it’s assumed that I don’t have sex. I would guess that I am safer in my polyamorous lifestyle than women whose husbands have secret affairs. I have a lot of trust in my partners and we communicate about these things.
I feel really lucky about that list of negatives, but I know that it can change at any time. My health is important to me. I’m going to keep taking reasonable precautions, not only for me, but everyone in my sexual circle. At the same time, I don’t want to let anxiety over STD/STI cripple my sex life. Sex is sometimes too messy for a compulsive hand washer. My partners wear gloves when they put their fingers inside me. I know that there is comfortable balance between safer sex and pursuit of pleasure.
In the future, I think I’ll just go to a STD testing clinic rather than relying on a general practitioner. I don’t want to have to defend my lifestyle or my right to get tested. What about you? How long since your last STD/STI testing?