When dating a new person, the STD question is bound to come up. One of you might ask: “When was the last time you were tested?” And you hope the other person is telling the truth.
Several years ago, I dated someone who posed the question earlier than I’d ever experienced; he demanded that we get tested, together, before he would even kiss me. I was stunned.
We met on the online dating site OkCupid. We would chat for hours about our interests and our families, simply taking our time getting to know one another. Online chatting led to texting, which led to our first outing on the local oceanfront. It was a perfect day for a long walk on the boardwalk.
For four to five months, we never once got physically intimate. He never held my hand, never wrapped his arm reassuringly around my waist, never did any of the real obvious, this-is-my-girl signs. But I didn’t get bent out of shape about it. I enjoyed his company and hoped something more serious would develop.
Then, one evening, we finished dinner and were ready to crash from overeating. We tried to watch whatever movie was on, but ended up passing out on my couch. He fell asleep first. For a while I lay there, staring at the ceiling, and then fell asleep fully dressed. There was no physical contact other than his head resting pleasantly on my chest.
The next morning, I woke up first, brushed my teeth, washed my face and started doing some light chores. Then I joined him back on the couch, poking at his shirt in an attempt to wake him up. He smiled and said good morning.
Then I leaned close, my lips inches from his, ready to finally have some intimacy with this man … only for him to turn away.
Confused, I dived in like a hormonal teenager. Again, he rejected me.
“Dude, what’s up?” I said. “Kiss me!”
“No,” he replied.
“Why not? We’ve been chilling for months, and we’ve never kissed or held hands. You don’t like being physical?” I asked.
“I do,” he said, “but I want to enjoy sex with you without worrying about stuff.”
After a long pause and some prodding, he elaborated: “I want to be sure you’re clean. Both of us.”
Before we did anything physical — even a first kiss — he wanted to get tested for STDs together. In nearly 20 years of dating, this was the only guy who insisted I get tested.
I was taken aback by his direct demand. It certainly did kill the mood that morning, but it was the most memorable, tender discussion I ever had with a partner about STD testing. Growing up poor, he said that he saw plenty of folks die of curable STDs they contracted due to drug use and other risky behavior, and it terrified him. I told him about how my uncle died of AIDS at a very young age — and how, as a child, I watched him wither away to almost nothing but bones.
Statistically, it was in our best interest as a new couple to be in the clear about our health statuses. According to the American Sexual Health Association, more than half of all people will have a sexually transmitted disease or infection at some point in their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in 2013, men accounted for 91 percent of all syphilis cases; in 2012 to 2013, the rate of gonorrhea among men increased 4.3 percent; and from 2009 to 2013, men’s chlamydia rates increased by 21 percent.
Lisa Fitzpatrick, a medical epidemiologist who specializes in treating HIV/AIDS, told PBS’s “Frontline” that many health providers simply don’t ask patients whether they’d like to be tested. “I realized that the awareness is just so low among health-care providers,” she told “Frontline.” “They have so many other things on their radar.”
“Too many of us still believe it’s a problem somewhere else — among white gay men, in sub-Saharan Africa,” Phill Wilson, the chief executive of the Black AIDS Institute told “Frontline.”
Two days after that morning STD talk, my new guy and I got tested together — and we both passed with flying colors. I don’t know why folks are so scared of getting tested or talking about it. At the clinic we saw people of all ages and colors holding their urine samples, waiting to be called by a nurse.
Even though this guy and I didn’t last, I’ll always have a great deal of respect for him. He wanted a healthy sex life with me and knew that meant having a frank conversation about STD testing. Our intimacy was much more enjoyable knowing for sure that both of us were clean.
He knew his body’s worth as well as mine.