I got chlamydia the other day. Let’s just get that out there. I think we should be able to discuss these things by now.
It kind of sucked. Not because it burnt to pee, or I had an itchy feeling, or because of any other nasty symptoms. It sucked because I didn’t know for a while, and I unknowingly passed it onto others.
When I was on antibiotics for it, fully aware I could not have sex at this point, I was making out with someone. After asking “Wait, can I give you a blowjob though?” and finding out that throat chlamydia is a thing, it turned out neither of us knew much about how STDs work.
The situation got so desperate that at some point we googled: “what CAN you do with chlamydia?”
There is a massive stigma around sexual health, and there shouldn’t be. Sex is, if you’re anything like me, one of the things that make life what it is. Not only is it the way we fulfil our main goal as a species - reproducing - it also brings us pleasure and connects us with loved ones.
I remember the first time STDs came up in a conversation with some friends, when I was 19. I had been sexually active for years, and I never got tested. I knew that I should have, and that I should be planning to, but no one ever told me to and so I preferred to remain careless.
It was an awkward topic for me to talk about, and I kept my mouth shut throughout the conversation. First of all because I didn’t have much to contribute, but second of all because I didn’t feel comfortable discussing this, let alone asking any questions.
It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I first made my way to the GU clinic in Mater Dei.
There was no good reason for me to postpone getting tested for so long. I had been sexually active with multiple partners, and since I had been on the pill, I was sloppy about using condoms. Guys don’t like them, and honestly, I couldn't care less.
I never had sex education in school. The first time sex was brought up in a classroom was in my seventh year of primary school, when we were between 10 and 12 years old. The teacher rolled the tv into the classroom on one of those old school rolling stands and turned on an educational programme.
I don’t remember much of what we saw, because it didn’t last long. In a classroom of around twenty-five children, the main sound throughout the programme was giggles and laughter.
What I do remember very well is the teacher switching off the programme, saying we were “being too childish”. That was it for our primary school sex ed.
The second attempt at sex ed was in high school, when we were at a supposedly more mature age. Our biology teacher was, and I can say this in hindsight without my teenage bias, an odd one. He looked like a confused Einstein and hated teenagers, and I can’t say I learnt much at all during these classes.
But we did get to the sexual health part of education - which was rather underwhelming. Instead of showing us how to use a condom and how STDs are spread, we were taught about the biological process of being impregnated. For our test, we had to memorise the different parts of the reproductive systems.
So I was pretty clueless when a friend told me someone I had sex with tested positive for chlamydia. I obviously had to get tested. Obviously I would now have chlamydia, too, right?
I called the GU clinic, where you can get tested for free (take note!). The waiting list for random check ups can be months, but if you urgently need to get tested they are able to push your appointment forward.
I waited for a week until I could see a gynaecologist and do the test. The process is super simple: you speak to a doctor about your sexual history, they explain how to do the swab test (it’s like a COVID-19 test but for your vulva), and they take your blood.
Two sexless weeks later, the test results were there: positive for chlamydia. Fuck. Now what?
It turned out the treatment was easy. I had to take antibiotics for a week and it would disappear. As a bacterial STD, chlamydia can easily be treated, and if done so it won’t lead to any further complications.
However, had I not gotten treatment in time, it could have had serious consequences, like chronic pelvic pain and infertility.
Those were things I didn’t know, but should have. It is, in hindsight, beyond ridiculous that I am having sex, often unprotected, without knowing anything about STDs or the consequences of those.
It took me a pregnancy, an abortion and chlamydia to - for the first time - actually urge someone to put on a condom. That is worrying. Because had I known the basics of sexual health, all of those things could have been avoided.
And though at this age I might be responsible for my own education, how could I have known any of those things when I was in my early teens? How could I have accessed safe and reliable information without having my teachers or parents speaking about it?
How can anyone expect us to safely have sex if we are never taught about the consequences of not doing so?
I’m sharing this, hesitantly, because I know I’m not the only one dealing with this. I know I’m not the only one who wasn’t properly educated on sex, and I’m also not the only one who had to deal with chlamydia, pregnancy, or worse.
It’s not something we like to speak about, and that needs to change. Because if we don’t talk about these things, and if we don’t discuss the shit we go through because of having unsafe sex, nothing will change. And we need change - desperately.
Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any thoughts related to this topic! Did you have proper sex education? Did your parents teach you about safe sex? When was the first time you got tested? Have you ever had an STD?