I have a confession: I don’t go for STI tests every three months like a model non-monogamous sex educator should. It’s not about the shame or stigma around being a sexually active woman or having a positive STI status, I’m mostly scared of STI tests because they hurt. Maybe I shouldn’t share this, but right now I’m really struggling with my vagina.
Content note for vaginismus! I’m also going to plug Coffee and Kink’s awesome What Happens When You Go for an STI Test resource if you want a more informational piece.
For most folks wth vaginas, an STI test is simple and painless. Society saddles us with a huge amount of shame around not only having an STI but about wanting to get tested so you know your STI status. Women are slut shamed for owning their sexuality, and STIs are stigmatised. I understand that both those things deter folks getting tested, but I’m scared of STI tests because I have vaginismus.
For many folks who have vaginismus STI tests are still simple and painless, because the severity of vaginismus varies hugely from person to person. For some, penetration is just uncomfortable. For some, penetration is impossible. I fall into the latter category. At an event about vaginismus a few weeks ago, one of the speakers was mentioned that she had recently had recently been for an STI test and talked about the vaginal swab: “it’s just like a cotton bud, so it’s easy even for people with vaginismus!”
No, no it’s not. Not for everyone.
For folks with vulvas, an STI test will require you to swab the inside of your vagina and maybe also provide a urine sample. It’s incredibly embarrassing to admit that I can’t take a swab myself. It’s about the size of a cotton bud, so if you use or have used tampons it will probably be easy enough to take a swab – if possibly a little awkward. For me, even putting a cotton bud in my vagina will hurt like hell, so much that I can’t self-inflict that pain.
I have to ask for help. It’s hard to ask, because not everyone understands that I can be sexually active while not having PIV sex. Ok, people in a sexual health clinic do understand that I can need an STI test even though I’ve never had a penis inside me, but I still feel like I’m being judged. While whoever I see will happily call a nurse in to take a vaginal swab, until they see my face screwed up in pain I’m not sure they understand how much pain I’m actually in.
“Oh, that looks like it really hurts!”
No kidding, I think as I lie back on the medical table. I try to keep my breathing even and I grit my teeth, trying not to cry – or scream. Your commentary on how much it hurts, which I’m doing my best to ignore, is super helpful, by the way.
That’s why I’m scared of going for an STI test. First I have to navigate the fact that people assume I must be having sex with either men or women (the answer is ‘I have sex with folks of all genders, and my partner is non-binary’). Then I have to explain polyamory I can’t possibly have multiple partners who also have multiple partners (I should not have to be educating people about bisexuality or non-monogamy). Then I have to deal with excruciating pain of someone pushing something in my vagina.
Even if it’s tiny, it hurts. I could take an anal or oral swab far more easily than a vaginal one – and I should, because I have receptive anal sex and engage in oral sex. Providers don’t always offer these though, and here is where I make my second confession: even though I know I should ask for them, I never have.
So I do have some internalised sexual shame. I’d like to pretend that it’s because the process of having a vaginal swab is so traumatic that I can’t face asking for more uncomfortable tests. I’d like to pretend that I have no problem with the world knowing that I like to fuck, and that my openness about sex means I would feel comfortable disclosing a positive STI status to my partners. Maybe I could, but I’m scared I couldn’t.
But that’s not why I feel sick with nerves before going for an STI test. That’s not why I haven’t been for one for almost a year. I could cope with the lack of understanding about my sexuality and relationship style, I could cope with the humiliation of having to ask for help with a vaginal swab, I could cope – I think – with people knowing I had an STI. But I can’t cope with the pain – that’s what I’m really scared of.
It’s totally normal to be afraid to get tested, because of societal shame or STI stigma or the fact it’s going to hurt. I am scared of STI tests, but I’m going to go anyway because looking after my sexual health is important. So if you’re scared, please know you’re not alone – but you should still be brave and get tested.
Vulnerability is hard, y’all, and it would mean a lot if you could support my so I can keep baring my soul on the internet. If you liked this post, please consider leaving me a tip so I can keep my blog running and keep bringing you my confessions and sex stories in 2020.
Quinn Rhodes (he/him) is a queer, trans, disabled sex writer with vaginismus. He’s a slut and a sex nerd who writes about his adventures in trying to fuck without fucking up. Quinn can usually be found wearing stomp-on-the-patriarchy boots while falling in love every time he fucks.