What Happened When I Found Out I Had Gonorrhea

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
I’m going to do something I don’t do very often here and discuss my own sexual history and experience. I've decided to do so because I think it could serve as a good learning experience for others. Now, if you haven’t already gathered — I’ll be talking about my gonorrheal adventures. This is me letting you know that I’m about to divulge some very personal information, and it took me some time to consider whether this was an appropriate thing to share.

Right off the bat, I’d like to state the basics straight from the CDC website. Gonorrhea is a bacteria that infects mucus membranes of the reproductive system, urinary tract, anus and/or the mouth, throat, and eyes. Anyone can become infected with gonorrhea, and it is an incredibly common STI/STD. Many men who contract it are asymptomatic, but an even larger portion of women are as well, which accounts for the fact that less than half of all cases in the U.S. are ultimately diagnosed and treated.

While it is a nuisance, gonorrhea is relatively easy to treat with an oral and/or injected antibiotic. However, a case of untreated gonorrhea can lead to more serious consequences than discomfort, such as infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI). It's often referred to as “the clap” — there are several inconclusive reasons as to why, including an early treatment method of "clapping" the penis to release discharge. Cute! 

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
I found out I had gonorrhea after visiting my Ob/Gyn for a routine check-up. I was asymptomatic; however, I had been having recurring bladder issues, which in retrospect were probably related. It had been six months since my last test, though I had been using barriers for virtually all sex acts in the intervening time. Because there have been points in my life when I didn't always practice safe sex, I was surprised to be diagnosed now that I was diligently using protection.

I knew my course of action:

- Get medication (I took a single shot of antibiotics)
- Call all sex partners from the past half year (thankfully I keep a creepy list of people I’ve hooked up with)
- Disinfect my sex toys
- Wait a week before having sex again

The sex educator in me saw this as a good opportunity, a learning experience. But, the adult baby in me got really cranky and anxious. Getting a shot of antibiotics was the relatively easy part. But, for whatever reason I chose to receive my shot in my arm instead of my butt. I wound up paralyzed with pain for a solid 20 minutes until an attendant kicked me out of the room. 

Lesson 1: Get your gonorrhea shot in your butt. It hurts less.

Then, it was time for me to call everyone. I started with my most recent partners and worked my way backward. The first person I called actually thanked and praised me for calling them, which I was not expecting at all. Actually, almost everyone was very kind. One person asked me if I wanted to get dinner with them that night. A few people mentioned that I was handling it so maturely that they said it made them like me even more. The worst reaction I got was pretty neutral, and that person came off as more frustrated than angry with me personally. After all, we don’t get angry at someone who gives us the flu.

Part of being a sexually active adult is accepting that you may or may not have an STI/STD one day, because there is no such thing as 100% safe sex. I mean, here I am — I’m literally the only person I know who uses condoms for blow jobs every time, as well as gloves for digital penetration, but I still got vaginal gonorrhea somehow.

Let’s get back to the phone calls. What did I say to my sex partners? I told them to get tested and treated, and I offered them some basic facts about gonorrhea. My tone wavered between sounding upset and sounding calm. I apologized to everyone for the inconvenience, but I didn’t self-flagellate excessively. Some people wanted me to give them more information; others were satisfied with the basics. It was almost fun after I got the first few calls out of the way, and I began repeating myself almost word for word once I found a fluid way to discuss it. 
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Lesson 2: Put a moment of thought into how you’re going to tell your partners, and try to tell them in a way that makes you feel comfortable but still gets the basic facts across.

Then, I disinfected my sex toys. The non-motorized silicone toys were boiled, and the motorized silicone toys were put in a solution of one part bleach and 10 parts water. The non-silicone toys were disposed of. The likelihood of being reinfected from a toy really just depends on how long ago it was used, where it’s been stored, and what it’s made out of, but I wasn't about to take any chances. It’s much easier for bacteria to live on a warm, wet surface like a body rather than a toy, but it’s still possible, so it’s important to clean sex toys. 

Lesson 3: If you’re really lazy like I am, just put a condom over your toys temporarily.

And, then…well I couldn’t have sex for a while. I was seeing one primary partner at the time, and it took them a while to receive treatment, so there was a very long stretch of just using condomed toys and making out. At the time I was more adult baby than sex educator — whining a lot and just wanting to have some damn penis-in-vagina sex — but I held out, and I’m so glad I did. 

Lesson 4: Make sure your partners have been treated or test negative before engaging in sex with them again, unless you want another round of gonorrhea.

I guess I was inspired to write this because I never could have anticipated what the experience would be like at all, and I had never had an STI/STD before. I even tried to find a guide to handling gonorrhea online, but I couldn’t find any other brave souls who were willing to publicly share their experiences. Also, my dad actually told me I should write about this on my blog, which I use to educate people about sexuality. 

I think it’s good to remember that, at the end of the day, I’m really just another human being who sometimes has awkward, crappy sex, or forgets to put a condom in their pocket, or gets gonorrhea. We are all doing the best we know how. We should all strive to educate ourselves, be honest with ourselves, and understand and forgive others. Sometimes, though, you just want to cry onto your condomed dildo and curse your damned gonorrhea — and that’s okay, too.
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