Comprehensive safer sex part 1: It’s personal

I thought STIs wouldn’t happen to me.

Part of a three-part series originally published to Tumblr on April 18, 2013.

At 30 years old and after 14 years of living with an STI—genital herpes—I’ve had my fair share of experiences with sexually transmitted infections (STIs). At 16, when I contracted herpes, I had been armed with the ever-familiar fear-based sex ed, in which graphic displays of worst-case scenarios were featured on a projector screen and little else was taught about STIs. Understandably, I thought STIs wouldn’t happen to me—they only happened to certain types of people—and when I became sexually active, I figured I was being responsible by only engaging in oral sex, sleeping with virgins, and getting annual pap smears.

In a similar fashion, when I had a bout of abnormal pap smears in my late teens and early 20s, I wasn’t told I had HPV. Abnormal pap smears are caused by the HPV virus, but very rarely result in cancer and usually clear on their own over time as mine did. A lot of doctors withhold that information in an attempt to spare their patients the fear and turmoil which often results from telling someone they’ve contracted an STI.

During those years, I also experienced recurrent yeast and bacterial vaginosis (BV) infections—which fit under the umbrella term vulvovaginitis, or vaginitis for short. Both infections are caused by normal bacteria naturally residing in the vagina, and while BV can be exacerbated by sexual activities, yeast infections can also be passed to partners.

In my mid-20s I met my ex-husband, and although we had a talk about being mutually exclusive, I didn’t go farther and ask about testing or insist we be tested together. He didn’t take our conversation in earnest and continued engaging in activities outside of our relationship, which I eventually learned the hard way in my final experience with an STI: scabies.

As a result of all of those experiences, I launched in April of 2012 alongside STD Awareness Month in hopes of promoting awareness, education, and acceptance for those living with an STI. The intent is to help others learn vicariously through my mistakes. Story-telling is one of our most powerful tools as individuals, and as such, I share openly so others don’t have to endure some of the shame, embarrassment, and fear inherent in STI diagnosis alone…

Written by Jenelle Marie

Jenelle Marie is the Founder & Executive Director of The STD Project–an award-winning independent website and progressive movement aimed at eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. You can also find The STD Project on Facebook and Twitter.