Frank revelations from our unmissable sex columnist, Rosie Green (@lifesrosie)
‘I thought going out with you would be all champagne and spas, not standing outside STI clinics,’ messaged my last boyfriend. He was waiting on a bench 500 metres from the clinic, with a sub-par coffee and a new ‘friend’ of no fixed abode. It wasn’t what you’d call living the dream.
I was inside said clinic after suffering from a mystery abdominal pain. How come? Well, when I told my GP and he asked if I had a new partner, I had to say yes.
So there I was in a room full of truculent 19-year-olds, a few older women who may or may not have been sex professionals and a lot of flammable sports clothing, awaiting the full sexual health MOT.
Feeling more awkward than a can of Carlsberg at a Baptist Church, I chatted to the consultant about schools and my sandals – anything to distract from the reality of my situation. Which was lying on a hospital bed with a stranger hovering over my nethers.
The last time I’d been in such a place I was in my 20s and accompanying my best friend who was suffering from symptoms that do not make for suitable breakfast-time reading. Anyway, I digress.
Readers, the results were negative: I was purer than Alp spring water; clearer than a nun’s conscience. Which was a massive relief because I grew up in the era of the Aids adverts. Remember those? The ones with the tombstone carving and the doom-laden words about ‘a deadly disease’ with ‘no known cure’. It cast a sinister shadow over a childhood that was otherwise full of Morten Harket and puffball skirts.
But despite it being drilled into me that it was essential to ask about someone’s STI status before sleeping with them, I’d never actually had ‘the chat’ before. STIs haven’t featured much in my life, having been, until recently, a one-man woman who had spent most of her adult life in a committed relationship. Even when all my friends were spending disproportionate amounts of time at the university medical centre getting tested, as a smug coupled-up person, I was worry-free.
In fact, it was as a post-marriage, 40-something that I had ‘the chat’ for the first time. I’d really rather not have done – taking on the role of Matt Hancock’s divorce lawyer would be preferable – but sexual disease rates are booming, so…
And guess what? The sky did not fall in on me. That boyfriend did not recoil in disgust or report me to the morality police. In fact, in a thoroughly modern manner he offered to get himself tested, too. I have discovered that these days, once you go exclusive (ie, ditch anyone else you might be seeing – keep up at the back), you commit to getting a sexual health check at the same time.
So while that relationship didn’t last, my more pragmatic approach did. I had previously considered STIs to be like wasps, having no redeeming features, but I now think there may actually be some benefits. It’s good that the subject tests a relationship. It throws you into a situation where you need to make yourself vulnerable and talk about your past. Having a chat about the not-so-sexy side of sex means you can potentially see a new side of someone’s character. Plus, getting checked out is a sign you care about your partner as well as yourself.
But there is still ten per cent of me that labours under the misapprehension that STIs are not my problem. I am a professional woman who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Farrow & Ball paints and drinks rosé. The type of person whose pressing concerns are climate change and how to secure the last remaining Cornish holiday cottage – not my chances of catching chlamydia.
I have a warped belief that my age and life stage make me immune to such base afflictions. Which, of course, I realise is wrong!
A friend recently said to me, ‘Go to bed with someone and you’re basically sampling their entire back catalogue.’
Which, in my case, means a partner can rest pretty easy. But it’s all so grown-up. And I now feel the need to recalibrate my relationship offering. Going out with me = spas, champagne – and STI checks.