Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Etiquette: STI Disclosure and Response

I love reading etiquette, so I figure it’s okay to write some myself. My quest to love and feel safe in my body is a little bit hampered by the fact that three months ago, I was treated for low-risk HPV. I’m not sure how it got in there, since I consider myself a very conscientious haver of sex. In fact, most of the sex I’ve had in the past decade has been with Sweetie, who has only ever been with me.

But still, it happened somehow. It’s a particularly annoying thing to have to disclose, because it isn’t something they usually test for. You can be carrying the virus, but you’d never know unless you have symptoms. Once the symptoms are treated, you don’t really know how long it will take for your immune system to fight off the virus.

But in order to be an ethical player, I have to disclose it. So, as soon as it seems like sex might be on the table, I send this:

“Three months ago, I was treated for low-risk HPV. There're no more symptoms, but there's the chance I could still be carrying the virus. Even with protection, there'd be a little risk.”

The responses that make me feel safe and validated, as opposed to diseased, are the ones that:

  1. Thank me for disclosing! It shows that I’m trying to do right by potential partners, and it is a very vulnerable thing to do. It’s great when that is acknowledged.
  2. Don’t make a big deal about it.
  3. Keep discussions of what we can and can’t do, in the disclose-ee’s estimation, for in-person and closer to the time that they actually become relevant.

It’s hard not to feel like there’s something wrong with me. Even though it’s a very common infection and it’s fairly harmless, it’s hard to fight the teenage slut-shaming feelings that come along with having an STI. A good response goes a long way toward making me feel like my personhood matters.


  1. This topic is one I wrestle with every time I meet someone new who has potential. Except mine is HSV2. I've worked hard to feel as neutral as I can at the possible outcomes of a disclosure, but I'm still apprehensive, and sometimes feel like a diseased outcast. Still, I figure that if I'm not accepted for having this virus, then I didn't need that person, anyway.

  2. That's what I struggle with too. It's also hard for me because I have been monogamous with a lady for so long that I don't always know what the up-to-date safer-sex practices are. It creates a weird power differential sometimes.