The Vagenda

Strapping Up, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Latex

We have come to visit my grandma. After eating more than our combined body weight in cake we’re in the garden.
‘Where’s that tree we planted together when I was little?’ I ask in a whiny voice, as my sister has a surreptitious cigarette behind the shed.
‘What, your tree?’ says my grandma, darkly. ‘It got the blight.’
I hear my sister sniggering. ‘Figures.’
Two days later I am having Serious Thoughts. I have not been very sensible of late. The sheer lunar pull of dark clubs and the sketchy men found therein have overwhelmed me, these past months. I have been a woman of primarily horizontal easement, but a small boat tossed in the waves of rum and mad, rampant desire, looping around poor unsuspecting blokes like a wisteria, giving little/no thought to protection, and having a thoroughly good time. But the day of reckoning is now upon me. The ailing tree’s merely a symbolic confirmation of what I’d suspected all along: that somewhere down this yellow brick road I have managed to pick up every STI under the sun. I am positively bucolic, I can just tell. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. I am fucked.
The problem, I think, is my coil. Knowing I won’t get pregnant has allowed me to spread my proverbial seed far and wide, safe in the knowledge that there won’t be any frantic pissing onto a stick any time soon. Added to this is absolute condom-mutiny. I hate the fuckers, and can truthfully say I could count the number of times I’ve used them on two hands. If I’m in a relationship, once I know the boyf’s clear I’ve always decked myself onto the pill or, a couple of years ago, went and got the IUD. Of late my method of STI-prevention has consisted of a muttered ‘Are we cool?’ which, I am now savvy enough to understand, will only ever be met with a glazed, uncomprehending grunt once you’ve got your respective kits off. It’s that bleary, ‘I’ve-not-got-a-clue-what-you-just-asked-me’, cunt-struck expression that sent me into histrionics. I have no idea who I’ve been sleeping with. I have been a total blunderbuss.
All of a sudden I am feeling extremely dicey. My palms are sweaty, my arms feel strangely weightless. I have Googled symptoms I don’t have, consulted medical websites, been on forums. By 11am I have almost certainly got HIV. I have descended into full-scale panic. What goes around has come around, and it is time to face the music. The weasel under the cocktail cabinet has finally reared its horrible head. I will be swinging from the rafters by midday. I will perish, covered in sores, clutching a bottle of gin in a gutter at the bottom of Holloway Road.
After calling the flatmate in a blind panic, we dash to the GUM clinic after work. We’re going to save the full screening for later in the week when we have appointments, but are about to have a rapid walk-in HIV test. Flatmate snorts with laughter after peering over my shoulder to see our identically-ticked boxes, then sulks when I snap at her. This is a serious business, and certainly no time to discuss evening plans: she wants to go to a Red Hot Chili Pepper-themed karaoke night in Dalston. I explain as patiently as I can that, if I have HIV, there will be no karaoke. There will not even be a sniff of Dalston. We have been two of the silliest girls in England, I say, wreaking SATURNALIAN CHAOS through Islington, and it is time to pay the price dammit. Flatmate yawns and takes a GUM clinic selfie.
When the smiling nurse comes out and calls my name, I leave my brazen flatmate cheerfully slurping a Snapple and lol-ing at Hello!
‘We’ll just need to discuss your sexual history first,’ says nurse.
I blink at her. The clock seems to be ticking very loudly. The table with the stirrups beckons. There is lube on every available surface, speculums everwhah. I’ve never minded sexual health tests in the past because I’ve never felt awkward a) getting semi-naked or b) discussing sex. But now, knowing myself to have been so deeply irresponsible these last months, I am physically cringing.
Ten minutes pass. I am in throes of panic so extreme, I want to confess my whole sexual saga, from first kiss to backseat cinema handjob to hogtying and rimming and accidental-and-then-on-purpose anal. I want to lay it all out on the table for her, and am in the midst of describing a night spent with someone I affectionately refer to on my list as ‘pest control man’.
‘Pest control?’ The woman looks alarmed.
‘He killed rats,’ I say, weakly, ‘he was a rat-catcher’. That is, and was, and ever shall be all that I know about him.
‘What you have to understand,’ I say, leaning forward, ‘is that it’s been a rather busy few months. I am not some sort of greedy comeslut’ – her eyebrows have literally disappeared into her scalp – ‘What happened was that I had a really bad breakup and I was dead miserable and moved abroad and was too sad to have any sex and wore nothing but a woollen cardigan with holes in it for three months -’
She interjects. ‘How many people would you say you’ve had unprotected sex with?’ 
‘- and then I came home and wanted to shag ALL THE MEN and so I did but I’m rubbish at condoms and I kept getting really drunk and I think maybe what I really need is CLOSURE because above all it’s important to MOVE ON, right -’
The nurse looks beside herself.
Finally, we get down to business. She pricks my finger, draws some blood out and puts it in a dish on the table before us. I literally blanche. ‘I find out now? Like, right now?’
‘Oh yes,’ she says breezily. ‘We’re looking for one big blue dot. That means it’s negative.’
We stare at the solution, which changes colour as a dot starts to form. For one, terrible moment I see a second one and tell her so, but she explains that it’s a speck of dust. I ask her to check this, three times.
‘Sorry,’ I say, almost crying with relief. ‘Obviously these rather louche sexual habits don’t sit too well with, you know, extreme hypochondria.’ She laughs – thankfully, tells me she’s never heard anyone say ‘louche’ in a sexual health clinic before and advises a ‘stiff drink’, which advice I do of course take.
Well, I have learned my lesson. There are no bats in my belfry, and I am very lucky. ‘No. More. Mischief’ as my mum would say. The next time I find myself in flagrante I will, to rather inappropriately quote the Boy Scouts, be prepared. There will be no more fannying about, no more bareback frolicking. As one of my bezzies said recently, ‘use your vagina as you would your liver –don’t put it in situations where it can do nothing but say, oh, fuck it then’. I will no longer court temptation only to be unhorsed with an STI when it’s least expected; I will not be standing, wankered in a field shouting, ‘MY KINGDOM FOR A SHAG’ any time soon. I have quaffed the bitter medicine of fear and, by God, it was a hearty dram.
- ZA

12 thoughts on “Strapping Up, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Latex

  1. So. Much. Empathy. I’m glad it’s not just me, and thank you for writing so hilariously about what seems to be my life as well as yours.

  2. Yep, this happened to me. On top of all that I hated my IUD, most painful thing that’s ever happened to me. I had mine removed but old habits died hard & then i had to play pregnancy russian roulette.. Only by the grace of god did I manage not to catch anything/grow a baby.
    I thought I hated condoms too, but me and my last ex used them and it was totally fine, actually even the bit where he went on the hunt for one was all part of the fun.

  3. I’m so glad that you escaped from your escapades unscathed, and that you learned your lesson! (Having just rewatched the movie, RENT, all I could think was, “You hapless fool, you’ve absolutely got aids now!”). I happen to have the rare situation of only having had one sex partner, and him only having had one sex partner as well, so we’ve never had to use condoms, although we do sometimes out of paranoia that that birth control patch is still doing its thing…I hated them at first, but you know, if you’re properly lubed up and foreplayed, they’re really fine.

  4. I had the misfortune to fall in love with a man who never wanted to use a condom, and he was cheating on me with at least 3 other women. When I found out I was sent into a frantic panic, imagining myself having every STD under the sun. Worse, when I went to be tested (blood drawn at the clinic), nurses treated me like a prostitute. I ended up being totally clean, but the treatment those nurses gave me still make me feel unclean.

  5. This makes me sort of jealous and mad, I must say. I am so unbelievably paranoid about protection since I’m a hypochondriac as well, and spend almost the whole of sex with a new person worrying about whether the condom has come up a bit and whether I’ll touch the stuff round the sides (related to that ‘Girls’ scene SO much), yet I got HSV1 from oral sex the second time I had sex. It really isn’t fair. All my friends never use protection and have nothing, yet I got that and I’m the most careful person I’ve ever come across. I know it’s not fair to be pissed at you for being lucky, but you are fucking lucky, and I do sort of resent you and everyone else that goes around being irresponsible and has no repercussions. I don’t want herpes. I did everything I was told and still have it. I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell people that I have it, given that the chances of me passing it on are so low for that type and that no one who’s ever had a cold sore seems to feel the need to tell all sex partners about it. My boyfriend certainly didn’t deem it necessary to tell me he used to get them, yet that’s how I got mine. And since mine are in a different place, I’m dirty, while he’s completely fine.

    Anyway, you’re fucking lucky. Really fucking lucky. I’m just a tad bitter.

  6. Jessica, whilst I’d never want to minimise your suffering, HSV1 is really easy to catch in situations where you’re not having sex (my friend caught it during childhood from her mother) and the fact that you caught it whilst you were engaging in oral without adequate protection (i.e condoms/ dental dams) means you took a risk, and you are just as ‘irresponsible’ as the people you’re attacking, never mind the fact you’re suggesting you shouldn’t mention the fact that you have an incurable STI to future partners. Please don’t yell at others on the internet as though you’re a saint and we’re all sluts, and no one is advocating not using protection.

  7. Glad you’ve decided to take responsibility for yourself & stop the irresponsible behaviour (not having a go – you know it was!). You’re very lucky to have dodged a potential bullet. Just (sorry for the downer) remember to get tested again in 6 months time to be sure you weren’t just in the window period in which the virus does not show up on this kind of test. And of course all the others that you probably had when you had your full exam.

  8. Roo, what your saying doesn’t minimise my suffering; I feel a million times worse now. I am really not criticising anyone’s actions or saying I am good or anyone else is bad, that’s not what I was saying. I also never said that I wouldn’t tell people, I was just expressing the unfairness I feel about the fact that no one who has this on their mouth, where it’s more contagious, has to tell partners, but I do. Most people don’t know they have HSV, too, so plenty of people are going around thinking they’re fine and not disclosing. The author could well have a strain of HSV, it’s not covered by the usual battery of tests. I’m not even sure if you can request the blood test in the UK. They can only diagnose you if you go in with symptoms, yet no one’s saying she should go around telling potential partners that she might have it. I don’t think she should! I’m not making a judgement, I’m just saying it makes me feel resentful because I feel like the fact that I know means I’ll never be able to have sex again.

    All I’m saying is that the author is incredibly lucky, and I guess I’m also saying that it’s unbelievably upsetting for me to come on here and read this article just happily recounting all that carelessness. That’s not a judgement on anyone. I am devastated by having this, I honestly feel like it means I’ll never have a relationship again because I have enough shit as it is without having to add the ‘I have herpes’ thing into the equation. I really never thought or suggested I was a saint, just that I have always been incredibly paranoid about things like this. I didn’t even know you could get herpes from oral sex, though. I know that’s my own fault, but I do think having a go at me for being irresponsible is kind of rich at the foot of this article. I got a fucking awful comeuppance from my brief dalliance with irresponsibility, I don’t need telling, I really really learned my lesson. I have, as you so sensitively pointed out, an incurable sexually transmitted disease, never mind that 50% of the population also has it. I’ve been diagnosed and so I am gross and horrible and have to tell everyone I ever want to sleep with that this is the case. Most of that 50% will not do that and no one will think worse of them because of it, but I have to.

    Basically this article felt to me like being kicked in the stomach, and now I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach again. I know this sounds whiny as hell, but you have no idea how ashamed I am of this and how sick it makes me feel whenever I think about it. My five minutes of irresponsibility left me with an incurable disease, so please cut me a little slack if I feel a bit shit reading about people who took more risks and came out unscathed. I am not judging them for that, but it does make me feel sorry for myself, I guess.

  9. Jessica, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m just bitter because I’m at 50% risk of HD (a degenerative, incurable genetic disease that alters your personality, and rids you of all capability as it kills you, slowly, slowly, slowly age of onset is typically between 35 and 45), and I have watched my nan deteriorate and my great uncle shake, and my mum change before my eyes as her brain slowly dies, and each of my brothers, cousins, uncles are at the same risk and I have to tell every single partner that I have that they could have to watch me die horribly, unable to walk or talk. That I have to put any offspring I have at risk. I didn’t do anything. Didn’t even get oral sex out of it. Life is horribly, terribly, awfully unfair. I’m sorry that I took this out on you. I’m just a stranger on the internet who’s sad and cross at life, and when I hear that all you have is the Herp, which sure, makes sex require a little bit more communication, and yeah, so you have to use a dam, or gloves, or a condom, but anyone who wants to have sex with you shouldn’t really care, and I feel sad. Life is shit.

  10. Oh man, I’m so sorry, Roo. I cannot imagine what that is like. I’m sorry I had such an utterly skewed sense of perspective. I’m so sorry you have to go through that. I can completely see how ridiculous my reaction must seem to you, all I can say is that I think it’s easy to get so lost in your own stupid shit and think about it round and round until it becomes huge to you. Being miserable is often a self-absorbed kind of process, I’m sorry I didn’t think about how trivial my stuff is in the scheme of things. I just feel really dirty and the ‘incurable disease’ line made me feel so gross. I should have realised how ridiculously small it is on the scale of incurable diseases. I hope it doesn’t sound dismissive, though, to say that I do feel like this exchange was a really fucking interesting insight into internet comments. Context is a beautiful thing and something we rarely have. I’m sorry, stranger on the internet, I hope good things happen to you.

  11. Jessica and Roo: I just want to say that although both of you are going through total crap, each of its own level and having its own effect, I think there’s something kind of wonderful about the communication and love and mutual respect that has just popped up in this comments section. Sorry for the hippy shit but you know, kudos to both of you. I am feeling the love in the room right now. (I swear I am not being remotely sarcastic, I really did well up a bit reading those messages).

  12. Hi Jessica, Just so you know you’re not alone the exact same thing happened to me! My ex gave me HSV1 ‘down there’, and even told me that it was impossible to pass on cold sores from mouth to vag. Not true I tell you! And now when I tell people I get a reaction of, ‘ew, you’re gross’ a lot of the time. So yeah, it is unfair and annoying.