I consider myself an extremely lucky individual. I’ve made it to my late twenties without having any real sexual health issues.
I’ve been sexually active since I was around 14 and I spent most of my teen years totally oblivious to contraception of any kind.
Actually, that’s a lie, my parents caught me in bed with a boyfriend my junior year of high school, forced me to go to the gynecologist, and had them put me on birth control (which I wouldn’t take because I had no clue what it did or how it worked).
I knew about pregnancy, but I had no knowledge about the transmission of STI’s, and I didn’t know much about my reproductive parts at all. When I started my period, after I realized that I WANS’T dying, I awkwardly told my dad. He pretty much tossed a pack of pads into my room and hysterically laughed as he explained that he didn’t buy “the kind with wings from 7-11” because he didn’t want his only daughter to fly away.
Up until a few years ago, my method of sexual health self-care was, “if it doesn’t hurt, it must be fine”. It wasn’t until I took my first Human Sexuality course in college that I started to be more proactive about my sexual health. Taking responsibility for my reproductive parts really helped me build a familiarity with myself and understand more about “what really goes on down there”.
About a month ago, I was in the middle of having sex with my partner when I got one of those “something isn’t right” feelings. I started to experience what felt like some vaginal inflammation and a moderately uncomfortable burning sensation. The sensations subsided quickly, but it seemed as though my vagina was mad at me for the next few weeks. I’m very familiar with what happens throughout my cycle, and I knew something was off. I looked up my symptoms on the Internet, which is always a mistake, only to find out that I could probably have anything. I also, being the over-sharer that I am, asked a few of my friends if they knew what might be going on. No dice. I decided, after sufficiently terrifying myself by over-researching on the Internet, to make a gynecology appointment.
I made the mistake of calling to make the appointment while at work, and had an extremely awkward time attempting to explain my symptoms to the nurse while my coworkers walked in and out of the break room. I went in about a week later for my appointment. I walked in fairly baffled and confused, and walked out with a prescription for some vaginal gel (that I’m petrified to use), and the diagnosis: a bacterial infection.
During my allotted 10 minutes with the doctor, I asked her why it was so hard for me to figure out what was going on with my vagina. She responded that, although a bacterial infection it isn’t always from penetrative sex, sexual health issues surrounding female reproductive parts are still largely hush-hush, as with female sexuality in general. Also, bacterial vaginosis is usually categorized as an STI, so sometimes the information is difficult to find. This made a lot of sense in my case, because the bacterial imbalance probably “occurred” during penetrative sex with a silicone dildo, so I didn’t think it was very likely that I had gotten an STI. I had also read (on the always 100% accurate Internet) that bacterial vaginosis is caused by “douching, multiple sex partners, or a new sex partner”, none of which applied to me. I told her how I had asked my friends if they knew what might be going on, and she laughed and told me that, even though BV is extremely common and treatable, there is still a stigma attached to it. Someone might think they’ll be viewed as gross, dirty or promiscuous if they admit to having experienced a bacterial infection, especially since it’s can be seen as an STI. She said that, for a lot of women, it’s not WHICH STI you have, HOW you got it, or WHOM you got it from, it’s that you have one that matters.
I want to end this with a sort of “call to action”. I think there needs to be a website, somewhere on the world wide Internet, with real life experiences, testimonials, and guides to sexual health as a vagina owner. Something like Yelp, but for sexual health issues would be great. I’d give my bacterial infection a very lengthy yelp review, with maybe 4.5 stars because it wasn’t as horrible as the internet described. Perhaps then my vagina could get it’s own “People Love Me On Yelp” sticker.