“Venereal disease” is a buzz-word that evokes a sort of disgust and moral righteousness that is unique among infirmities. No one sneers at someone who catches the flu, or disdainfully mocks cancer victims, but sufferers of VD are not blessed with this immunity. Poor them.
I recently came down with (I have no idea what it actually means to “come down with” something, but it seems like a nice euphemism for “contracting via impassioned intercourse”) something called Mollosum Contagiosum, which is a fungal infection that is oftentimes sexually transmitted. They look like itchy red bumps with little white heads reminiscent of blackheads, and until recently, they were cascading up the shaft of my penis from the base of my balls. I’m not Web MD, and this is as far as my knowledge of the subject goes. However, I do know that having Molloscum sucks.
Treatment for my Molloscum consisted of visiting my University’s health center and discussing my ailment with a certified medical technician (“I see these things several times a week,” he insists smugly, hovering over my cock with a funny look in his eye) as well as cryotherapy. Remember that ice cannon that Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin (the lame one with George Clooney) used in-between bad puns? That’s cryotherapy on the macro-scale. Liquid nitrogen, the substance harnessed in this micro-ice cannon, boils at -321°F (that’s colder than the temperature on Saturn). Thus, you can imagine the explosion of agony as temperatures colder than the 6th rock from the sun are blasted at the shaft of your cock, as well as the nagging discomfort that haunted me as I limped out of the examination room.
When I initially noticed these suspicious white growths, their origins and identity were a mystery. And their sudden manifestation on my cock was certainly stressful. I looked up pictures of Genital Herpes, desperately hoping to confirm my hopes that these dick zits were simply benign accoutrement for my otherwise healthy-looking sex organ. My search results were not comforting. Herpes sores, it turns out, have the same little white heads as Molloscum, and my penis looked like the spitting image of the Herpes dicks you see in Planned Parenthood pamphlets (albeit much, much, much less progressed).
By this point, I am beside myself with stress. Do you know what it’s like walking around with the feeling that your life has been fundamentally altered by rogue viral forces, that your genitals are the cause, and that your life will never be the same again (maybe I’m being a little over-dramatic, but this is an accurate picture of how I felt at the time)? It’s a pretty awful sensation, I assure you.
Anyway, the whole ordeal was incredibly embarrassing; at this point, I’d only told one or two friends, and I have no intention of going public or viral among my associates with the update that I narrowly avoided a lifetime of Valtrex treatment. Maybe some of you are embarrassed for me and find it unfathomable that I am recounting this story publicly at all. I’m afraid these people would find most of my actions unfathomable, so I’m not worried about explaining myself to them. This is for the rest of you.
I contracted this noisome rash, presumably, by (lovingly) engaging in repeated acts of casual sex. If I assume correctly, many reading this have also (passionately) indulged in. Need I feel embarrassed, ashamed, by this? Should I hide this malady from friends and loved ones, neglect to mention it on first dates (okay, obviously), and generally submit to feelings of inadequacy and cowardice? Sure, if that’s your bag, by all means, do that when-and-if you catch the clap or come down with a spot ‘o trach. But I think that’s ridiculous.
I have a lot of sex, with a lot of different people sometimes, and I don’t think that’s something I should feel bad about. If that’s your thing, keeping your sex life private, confined, and monogamous, I totally respect that, and more power to you. But, as far as I’m concerned, that sort of sex shouldn’t be more culturally or institutionally valued than my kind of sex, which, oftentimes, is casual, polyamorous, experimental, and hot as hell. Not that I don’t have other kinds of sex ever: I’ve been in plenty of serious relationships, and appreciate monogamous sexual partnerships for what they are – a pleasant way to get to know someone. But when I’m twenty-ish, establishing my sexual interests and determining my sexual identity, I find humping around to be the way to go.
That said, I think casually sex (when engaged in safely and appropriately) is as morally valid a sexual lifestyle as abstinence, and it is only our Western, post-Victorian social constructs idealizing chastity and privileging monogamy over all other forms of sexual expression that claim otherwise. Call it a manifesto, but I don’t buy into that nonsense, and I don’t think I should have to. I was wearing a condom when I contracted Molloscum, and I don’t feel obligated to be embarrassed by my sexual conduct. Call me a martyr, NBD.
My Molloscum’s gone now, though my thoughts about what venereal disease means and how society perceives it have lingered. I’m not sure why I’m writing this, except that I think it’s important for people who’ve contracted STIs to share their stories, especially if we want to shake the ugly stigmas surrounding VD transmission in a post-AIDS world. People who catch STIs are not morally vapid creatures, even if casually sex played a part in their transmission. Our society’s framework for understanding venereal disease is woeful and shaming, and is just another system of oppression in a world already filled to the brim with disempowerment.
But I think another world is possible, one where contracting Trichomoniasis or Chlamydia (or even HIV) isn’t damning or shameful or morally corrupt. It’s just another crappy thing that happens to otherwise good people — like broken cell phone screens and lost car keys.