Having safe sex with women can be pretty tricky. Oh, the condom! Why must you be so inapplicable to my efforts to sex up the ladies? Or one lady in particular. Don’t get me wrong; I am well aware of the dental dam, but still I worry. It seems patently unfair to have been born with both a penchant for oral sex and a germaphobia that borders on neurosis.
I mustered up my courage and scheduled an appointment for STD testing. I figured it’d just be easier and set our minds at ease if we could be sure of things. It seemed the responsible thing to do. I thought it would be a cinch.
My regular provider was on vacation, so I went through the process with a different one, a nurse practitioner I would guess in her late 50’s. She asked me a barrage of questions, spending an inordinate amount of energy typing a summary of the visit into Centricity. At intervals, she would read back what she had written to me and ask if it was okay. Even if it wasn’t exactly correct, it was really more effort than it was worth to fix the minor discrepancies, so I’d just agree. For starters, she indicated in my history of present illness that I had “entered into an unexpected relationship,” which is technically true as I can’t predict the future and had no idea my great fortune would lead me to such a wonderful new man and woman (of course there is the fact that I don’t know if they would appreciate my calling it a “relationship,” although I like to consider it one), but really that part had nothing to do with the STD test. It was the impending sexy time, really, but not liking lectures and knowing non-monogamy as a lifestyle choice might certainly provoke one, I settled on her misrepresentation.
She then asked me if I had sexual encounters with men or with women. When I hesitated, she asked, “With both?” and I said, “Yes, men and women.” She typed a bit and then asked, “Would you consider yourself a bisexual?”
I winced. I wasn’t sure what this had to do with getting a pelvic swab and a blood draw. It was jarring to hear “bisexual” in its noun form. I’ve always thought of it as an adjective that described my sexual habits and proclivities, not my definition. Not to mention, I don’t think anyone has ever asked me my sexual orientation before. Usually, I tell them on my own time on my own terms when it seems relevant to the situation, or they simply don’t ask. “Yes, I would,” I replied, feeling a little choked up. I don’t know why. Maybe it was dreading what came next, the cold speculum, the wait for my results, the inevitable red tape and technical truths between me and paper copies of them. Maybe it was the interrogation-grade lighting or the extra-large Tim Horton’s iced coffee I’d downed in a hurry on the chance I’d have to provide a urine sample.
“You know,” she said, “It’s understandable that you’re so uncomfortable. Our culture doesn’t really address you.”
“Would you like to talk to someone, a counselor? I know this one therapist who is a lesbian you could talk to. I could make a referral.”
I shrugged. Really, I just wanted my lab tests, but she was being so nice, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I figured worst case scenario I didn’t have to make the appointment. I could always cancel. She started typing something into the computer. I didn’t even realize I was crying until she handed me a paper towel. “Get the feelings out,” she said. How humiliating.
It says something that it was a relief when it was time for the pelvic exam. No more questions whose answers were easily misinterpreted. No more uncomfortable silence. This was familiar territory, robotic, automatic.
“It’s all very complicated,” she added to my chief complaint as a direct patient quote.
As a very pretty lady friend of mine told me when I recounted the story, it was mostly likely the triumvirate of married, bisexual, and STD testing that prompted a counseling referral, but it was definitely not the way I had wanted things to go.
On the bright side, at least I got the testing done.