Awkward Conversation

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

STI screens are a necessary evil for anyone who has sex with more than one person who has sex with more than one person who has sex with more than one person. You get the idea. The reality of casual sex is that you never know where your partner has been. Condoms give some protection against some infections but experience, and several sexual health websites, have taught me that they have their limits. And so I find myself at the doctor’s office asking for an STI screen every few months.

Over the years this request has resulted in mixed reactions. Despite the required level of professionalism that doctors are required to maintain they are still human and come with cultural and personal quirks. My city is a cultural melting pot. Wherever you go there will always be a wide range of cultures and heritages represented. This is especially evident in most medical practices. In the past when dealing with sexual health issues I have come across female doctors from certain cultural backgrounds that do not approve of a married middle aged woman being fully in touch with her sexuality. It has made me a little self conscious and cautious about sharing my lifestyle when asking for particular tests.

I recently decided to find a new General Practitioner. I had not really had a proper regular doctor for several years and had been existing with my various health conditions renewing prescriptions when I needed to but not really reviewing things or making changes. As part of the initial consult we discussed my sexual health and I requested an STI screen. This particular GP was very through, taking notes and getting a good picture of my background. She was also a relatively young Indian woman. As I mentioned before I haven’t had a good track record with this ethnicity. So while I was impressed with her professionalism I was still cautious.

As part of her background questions she asked how many sexual partners I had had in the last month. I honestly had no idea how to answer the question for several reasons. Firstly I honestly had no idea. I began a mental count back but I was coming off two weekend long lifestyle events. During both of these events I interacted sexually with multiple people in multiple ways. Debaucherous was the best word to describe the adventures of my vagina over the last month so the mental count back crashed and burned in a couple of seconds.

Secondly and more awkwardly I didn’t know how she would react to a casual shrug and a vague answer of “I’m not sure, maybe 20?” I still have that lingering self-consciousness about the “number”. The left over conditioning to be a good girl and I was sitting in front of a woman with a cultural background that defends the purity of women even more than a good Irish Catholic.

There was an awkward moment as she waited for my answer and I did the mental gymnastics and tried to come up with an answer. She must have been aware of my hesitation because she tried to reassure me with a comment,

“Nothing will shock me I promise.”

My eyebrows went up, “Really?”

She was as casual as she could be, “The highest I have heard is about 140.”

Well, my number wasn’t that high. But then I wondered how does someone sleep with 140 different people in a MONTH. That is like an average of four to five DIFFERENT people EVERY day!. The logistics alone would be challenging, let alone finding that many people who are interested.

What ever passed I gave some kind of answer between 10 and 20 and she gave me my pathology request and jars and I went on my merry way. I liked her more after that. So I will be back in her office in a few months to get checked over again.

Go me, adulting hard and all that stuff.

Trying to be Safe

No one in my house is awake. I get myself up because;

  1. I want to work on a story for the blog
  2. I have a bunch of stuff I need to work through before I go back to school next week after summer holidays. (Yes I am still on holidays and that means I shouldn’t work but … it is too hard to explain)

So what do I do, I scroll through Twitter of course because procrastination is my middle name. BUT then I came across this article describing a woman’s experience of explaining a non-linear monogamous sex life to her gynecologist. In short, for all of her sex life she has tried to do the right thing to ensure that she doesn’t get infected with an STI. It is not a black and white process, nothing to do with biology ever is. (Something I can never seem to get my students to understand but I digress). She finds herself pigeonholed and belittled by many medical practitioners who don’t always ask the right questions or even prescribe the right tests.

Of course everyone’s experiences are different. But what happened to her, how she felt about what she was doing and how medical professionals interacted with her is similar to my own experience.

For many years I would land in a doctor’s surgery and ask for an STI screen, not entirely regularly but when I remembered. I didn’t always have a regular GP but I tried. The conversation would go a little like this;

“So what can I do for you today?”

“I need an STI screen,”

“OK. Has something happened that you are concerned about?”


At this point a puzzled look crosses the doctor’s face. I can see them thinking “WTF???” I hurry to explain,

“My husband and I are swingers, we have multiple partners,”

“Right…” This revelation always made doctors uncomfortable. Strangely they can look at people’s lumps and bumps, examine all parts of their anatomy with that doctor face that hides emotion. But when they are faced with something that challenges a fundamental cornerstone of our culture, their professional facade falls apart. It took me many years before I found a GP who didn’t fall apart at this revelation. Not surprisingly this man had a history of working with women in prison and also in a clinic that had many sex workers as clients. His feelings about my lifestyle choice were for the most part positive. He did of course give me the obligatory safe sex rant that made me feel like all my sexual encounters should look like this

Errrm I’ll pass. As much as I hate condoms I do use them in the standard accepted manner, ie on a penis to contain bodily fluid. I use them during all of my sexual encounters with people who are not my husband.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a consultation with a doctor who specializes in hypertension. I was, and still am, suffering from this inherited condition, thanks Mother. This doctor was trying to eliminate known triggers and potentially remove the need for me to take medication. The topic of me taking the contraceptive pill came up. She questioned the need for a long term, married, 40+ woman to be on a medication that clearly had links to the condition that I was trying to eliminate.

She was much more professional about my reasons for insisting on this medication than many of her colleagues had been. Yes, a baby fathered by a man other than my husband is a much less desirable outcome than a possible slight reduction in my blood pressure. Interestingly since menopause has come into my life I have not taken the pill for almost a year and my blood pressure? Still high, I am still taking medication.

The general tone of the article I read was frustration that medical practitioners and educators lack empathy and probably knowledge about sexual and relationship choices that vary from the standard, boy – girl one partner only type. Our culture is so strongly rooted in the heterosexual marriage with a view to producing children that most people can’s see past it. Even when this model clearly fails the majority of people.

The world is overpopulated, no-one is really arguing against that idea. But still we expect that every human of child bearing age will want to produce offspring. So many children are scarred by being the product of toxic, malfunctioning marriages but still we push the fantasy of monogamous, happily ever after. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome. If this is so then the world has clearly gone insane.