Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Planned Parenthood: Jeremy

During my junior year of college, I had been out of the closet barely a year when I had anal sex for the first time. Before that, I lived most of my life as a conservative Catholic and only ever attended Catholic schools, and somehow picked up the notion that being a "practicing" gay essentially guaranteed God's fury via AIDS. In addition, all sex education was "no sex" and none of it was "safer sex". So, during my first encounter with anal sex, I was drunk and pressured into topping a guy I barely knew. I had one condom on me, but I didn't really know how to put it on, and ended up breaking it. Instead of not having sex, we went ahead and had unprotected sex. At first, I wrote the experience off as just one of those bad hook-ups, but upon entering my first relationship, my fear that I was infected with HIV grew to a point of obsession and my Catholic guilt was hounding me daily. After waiting 6 months, my boyfriend and I went to the local Planned Parenthood to get tested together. I chose Planned Parenthood, because I was nervous going to my family doctor (I wasn't out and was afraid of an 'information leak'), and the campus health services results weren't confidential if you were positive for HIV (they had to notify the state). In addition, it cost money that a poor college student like me didn't necessarily have the funds to pay. I thought that as a queer man, a place I grew up associating with women and abortions was the last place that would welcome me. But it was free and I needed the tests so we went. I thought I was just going to get some blood drawn, in and out. But I got so much more. As the Planned Parenthood staff member drew my blood, she asked me if there was any reason I was getting tested. I told her I had unprotected sex, and bits of how I got into that situation. After she was done drawing my blood, she took a few moments to explain to me the relative risk of HIV transmission through different sexual activities, as well as ways to reduce your risk. She gave me tips on how to properly put on a condom. She also gave me pamphlets on rape and sexual assault, and explained that even though the resources may seem heterosexual/female specific, they weren't. Also, in addition to getting tested for HIV, I was tested for other STI's as well, and even got a physician to check out my junk to make sure everything looked normal. The physician then also told me about testicular and prostate cancers, how to give myself a testicular exam, and also that I should consider getting a vaccination for HPV (which they provided), because early studies have shown that it can cause rectal cancer as well as cervical cancer. Plus, it'd be a good idea to avoid genital warts anyway. About a week later, my test results came back all negative. But I think even more importantly, I didn't have the same fear of HIV and other STI's that I did before and all thanks to the Planned Parenthood staff. They gave me a level of control and power in my own sex life, something that I completely missed out on through my childhood education. Also, as a queer man, I had never felt so comfortable talking to health professionals about sexual activity that wasn't 'normal heterosexual' activity. If it weren't for Planned Parenthood's free services, sex education, and affirming and supportive staff, I very likely could have contracted an STI by now, that would have ended up costing more money to treat than it would cost to prevent. But mostly, I thank Planned Parenthood for instilling within me a level of confidence and security that has lead to a pleasurable, healthy sex life, and not one of constant fear and anxiety.

Jeremy L., Pennsylvania

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