The STI dilemma: to tell or not to tell? And when?

Nothing decides your true moral character more than when you’re inebriated, hot and heavy with your new love interest and there are no condoms. Do you risk ruining the mood and rejection? Do you tell them you have an STI?

Apparently the ’80s are back and unprotected sex is on the rise again, though this time it’s not because of any lack in education, but chosen ignorance; “Why ask a question you don’t want an answer to?” as one 27-year-old put it to me. Frankly, 27 is a little too old to be acting stupid.

The first time I was confronted with an STI — they were called STDs back then — I was at work and received a voicemail from someone named John asking me to call him back. I only know one John and the voice on the other end was not his. Curious, I returned the call and asked for John. When he came on the line he informed me that he was calling from the STD clinic and someone that I had been with had tested positive for something. I needed to be tested. He couldn’t provide additional information over the phone.

My heart was racing, I almost threw up. I immediately left work, citing an emergency, and ran to the clinic, my mind racing. Who could it be? What could it be? I was too young to get AIDS, I swore never to have sex again. It turned out to be something minor that I did not contract, but they treated me anyway. I was 19.

Shortly after I went to the clinic about a question I had. During a routine test they found something — HPV, human papillomavirus. They didn’t have a vaccine back then. No one talked about it either. Fortunately they treated it and I never had a re-occurrence. Despite yearly physicals, seven years later a PAP test came back abnormal — high risk, one stage below cancer. I need to have the abnormal cells removed. If I don’t have the procedure done, I will get cervical cancer. I’m not yet 30.

I fell in love. I didn’t tell him about having been treated for HPV at first. Very early in the relationship, when we had the talk, after we’d already had sex, he flipped out — nearly violently. We both went for testing and the nurse reassured me that because it had been so long since I’d had an outbreak of HPV it was considered to be gone — in permanent remission. Now we were both tested, happy, in love, committed.

One year into the relationship he found something on him. He raged at me. How could I do this to him? Why did I have to have so many partners before him? Why was I such a slut? I told him I’d never before had anything like what he had on him and that if I could have carried it for so long without knowing it, then so could he. He wouldn’t hear of it. I was the one with the sordid history, not him.

The test came back — herpes simple complex virus type 2 — incurable. I was astonished. We’d been exclusive for a year, we had both been tested and we both thought we were safe. Where could it have come from? Attempting to diffuse the anger, I conceded that it was more than likely because of me, even though I had no real grounds for believing that to be the case. I didn’t even bother contacting previous partners to ask them, however he contacted his few. Turns out his one night stand with an old flame just months before meeting me has it. She found out before he and I even met. Had she called and told him when she did find out, our lives might look a lot different. It might not have been her, it might have been someone in my past, but it doesn’t matter now.

I’ve never been tested for herpes, but I’m pretty sure I have it now too. Our relationship didn’t last and now I’m in a perpetual moral dating dilemma. To tell or not to tell? When to tell? Do I wait until second or third base when the guy will pretty much agree to anything? Do I tell someone right when we meet or do I wait to see if we’ll even make it to the bedroom? Do I tell them that they can still contract it even if we use protection? Am I obligated to tell them at all?

I could choose not tell them, ever. I could sleep around with anyone willing. I couldn’t have a relationship with them, though — eventually I would have to tell them and I’m not sure any relationship could survive that type of dishonesty. I’d also have to live with myself. And I can’t help but wonder, if I’m hiding this, what could they be hiding? HIV?

There might be an argument in the rising “don’t ask, don’t tell,” chosen ignorance philosophy, but whatever the argument, it is cloaked in fear and foolishness. Had I chosen this path I would have died of cervical cancer before my son finished grade school, not to mention I’d still be intentionally putting many other people at the same risk. Like I said, 27 is too old to be stupid.

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