We can probably all agree that 2016 was, for some reason, a hell of a year. For me personally, it was rather eventful. From coming out to my family, to getting divorced, there were way too many stressful events for one year.
The kicker was getting a chlamydia diagnosis around Christmas. I’d had no reason to think I had anything, but it came up on my routine testing.
The timing was unfortunate. It was about two days after I’d given a hyperbolic speech to one of my partners about how much I hate catching a cold, and I’d rather have something less inconvenient like chlamydia. It was so absurd, I laughed when the doctor called me about it.
I’d never particularly had an STI before, other than HPV, which is so ubiquitous as to not count. If you’ve had sex you’ve almost certainly had HPV.
Chlamydia is a real nothing of an infection to get, as long as it’s detected and treated quickly. You might remember it from high school sex ed—it’s the one that can make you sterile if you don’t know you have it and leave it untreated. But treated promptly, it’s usually inconsequential.
It’s also the most common STI in Australia, with about one in 20 people walking around with it. The infection is most common in young people, but anyone can have it.
I get tested for everything every couple of months, so I was diagnosed quickly after picking it up. The treatment is a single dose of antibiotics. Fixed, too easy.
Unfortunately, I also had to go through informing my partners and other people I’d hooked up with since my last STI screen, which was a little more awkward. There were, shall we say, several people. My partners were cool about it, and they all tested negative, which was nice.
To the people I didn’t know so well, I sent a detailed text message informing them about how common chlamydia is, and how easy testing and treatment are.
One young guy who I shouldn’t have banged in the first place (awful, awful sex) sent me a message back: What the hell is that, and I thought you said you were tested and clean.
I didn’t bother pulling him up on the terminology, but referring to a negative STI test as ‘clean’ is pretty gross. The implication being, of course, that positive is dirty, which it isn’t. Whether we’re talking about chlamydia or HPV or HIV, positive is just… positive. Maybe you have something, maybe you don’t. Neither makes you good or bad or dirty or clean.
I did point out to him the nature of testing, though. It doesn’t grant immunity from STIs, and you do have to keep doing it regularly. One clear STI panel doesn’t guarantee you’re negative for everything forever.
In the end, everything worked out fine for me and the people I care about, but this story has two morals.
First, either use condoms properly and fastidiously, or accept that once in a while you might pick something up. No judgement, that’s just how it is.
Second, get tested so that you know your own health. For most queer guys, quarterly STI testing is appropriate, but talk to your doctor about it.
You can stay on top of your sexual health by talking to your partners about what risks you’re comfortable with and what protective measures you want to take, and getting tested regularly for STIs. If you do get something, most infections are curable, and the rest are treatable.
And remember, test results are not value judgements. Positive doesn’t mean dirty.