Picture this: you just got your heart broken by the man of your dreams and as a result you’ve been too upset to play the field. Finally, after a huge dry spell filled with bouts of dejection, along comes a lovely man as intelligent as he is sexy. You date and have great sex for a month. While he is away on a trip with his buddies to Costa Rica, you feel it. A bump. No, wait. Three bumps. Down there.
When I compared the bumps I saw in my pocket mirror to images on the internet, I realized I needed to make an appointment at Planned Parenthood. In order to “prepare” myself I began to read all the information there is on HPV warts. At my appointment, the doctor confirmed my suspicion and did the first of several procedures to remove them. She also told me that it was not likely I got it from my new partner as the timeline of their appearance was too short.
Afterward, I spent hours on the phone with my mom, crying, and worrying about how to tell my partner. The internet had told me awful things. I read endless horror stories about people who had warts for years without relief, people whose partners rejected them and people who could not find new partners willing to take on a person with a treatable, but not always curable, STI. I thought my life was over, because these voices had told me theirs were.
Here’s the thing: the worst part of contracting an STI is not the actual health problems, because with good medical care they are easily dealt with. However, when you are faced with this simple and realistic aspect of pursuing a life of sexual fulfillment, all the stigma you have comes right to the surface, and you can never be prepared for how much there is. And not just stigma about being “dirty.” For so long I had been using my sexuality and men as a way to feel my beauty and self-worth. So when my picture of my sex life became compromised, I instantly felt unworthy, unlovable, undesirable, and unmasked.
After a week of hour-long phone calls, my mother said “I think maybe you should see someone about this.” I made an appointment. In the meantime, I decided that I would make myself a Genital Warts Bill of Rights.
You have a right to respect, compassion and understanding. Anyone who judges you is not worthy of your time.
You have the right to feel sexy. Do not let your sexuality be defined by this.
You have a right to freedom from guilt. People can contract genital warts even using condoms. It’s a risk everyone takes, and sexual expression is worth that risk.
You have a right to remember. Remember all the things in your life you can focus on that have absolutely nothing to do with your sexual health.
You have a right to feel scared. This will happen. Do not feel like a failure if at times you get frustrated or sad or lonely. You could feel all of those things about any other aspect of your life. Let these feelings in, let these feelings out again.
You have a right to enjoy being single. Do not ever let being single feel like a function of having an STI. Cherish those times you can focus on just yourself.
You have a right to courage. Never run away from a great connection because of fear of disclosure. No regrets.
You have a right to good health. Be conscientious. Get the Gardasil vaccination if you can. Keep up with appointments and routinely examine yourself for any new growths.
You have a right to an internet-free experience with your case. Let’s be honest, you have researched everything you can possibly know about the virus. Now it is time to set back and watch how YOUR case goes.
You have a right to a positive attitude. In all things in life, not just this.
My STI created so many positives in my life. I finally went to therapy to deal with issues I had been burying. I became closer with the friends and family who I disclosed to, as they all met me with my first right: respect, compassion and understanding. I have more confidence as a result of this than I have had in my entire life.
And I became closer to my partner. When he came back I was terrified to tell him. I couldn’t get the words out and I could tell he was nervous. When I finally said it, his response was “That’s it?” A year, one trip to South America, and tons of sex later, we are still together and so in love.