On the way out of my doctor's office, where I'd just had my yearly physical, my doctor said his usual goodbyes, telling me he hoped he wouldn't see me for a year. Just before I had a chance to close the door, he stopped me with a warning: "There's a new, resistant strain of gonorrhea and an uptick in syphilis and anal chlamydia, so be careful." I awkwardly thanked him and thought back to the simpler days of going to my pediatrician, whose final words were typically: "Do you want a cherry or lime blowpop?" I always took the cherry.
As I rode the train up 7th Avenue, I gave much thought to my doctor's warning. I started thinking of random conversations I had had with people online or on social-media apps and recalled how, after many transactional questions regarding preferences, body types, height, and weight and the trading of photos, came the final question: "Are you DDF?"
Now, as I thought of this, I couldn't recall anyone ever, ever stating that they were not drugs- and disease-free. Do we live in a culture and society where all STIs (sexually transmitted infections, for the hopefully one person reading who might not know what this stands for) and drugs have been wiped from this Earth? Has a cure for HIV/AIDS been produced and distributed via our cellphone antennas? Are drugs no longer a problem? This phenomenon of everyone supposedly being drugs- and disease-free is quite surprising.
I know, I know, you're thinking, "Well, everyone lies on the Internet." So does it just make us feel good that we actually make the effort to ask the question, and we want to hear the answer we need to complete this transaction? What is it in our psyche that makes us feel good when the person we are with is truly "DDF"? Do we ever really want to hear, in the moment of passion, "Be-tee-dubs, I just finished a round of having some anal warts burnt off, so stay clear of the region. Oh, also, don't worry, I'm on Valtrex, so we're good from the front waist and up." Why do we ask a question that we really don't want the answer to?
Let's be honest with ourselves and each other: There are no specific gay bars in any city that cater specifically to people with STIs, so we're all in the same bars socializing with each other, but miraculously none of us has diseases or is using any drugs. What's the deal? You might say the answer is to avoid the Internet or social-media apps when meeting people, but with apps like Grindr (with over 4 million users) and Scruff (with over 2.5 million users) growing by the day, this seems to be our normal way of socializing.
I find the easiest guys on Grindr tend to be the ones who are "not looking for hookups," or more specifically the ones who are on the app for "networking" or "friends." But wouldn't it be great if our gay social networks provided required boxes for indicating our STI status or our latest test dates and results, as well as a popup reminder every time we're due for our next test?
Speaking of test dates, I do find irony in the lack of knowledge that many people display in listing their latest date with a simple "negative as of xx/yy/zzzz". Although I applaud this action, as it tells me the individual is getting tested (hopefully regularly), I do wonder whether he or the person he is speaking to knows that the test results mentioned were only valid until his subsequent sexual experience (or that in the case of testing for HIV, it may not even be accurate on the actual test date, as it may not yet appear in his blood).
As a community, we need to be more aware of STIs. Gargling with mouthwash or showering after an intimate encounter won't keep them away, and last I checked, neither of these was a form of "protection." I'm not saying we should get to the point of being unnecessarily alarmed and prevent social experiences, but let's be more alert. We should each make sure to have at least one close friend to talk to about our health record, as some of these conversations may not be family-appropriate. Lastly, I certainly hope each and every one of us has a doctor with whom we are comfortable talking about our sexual experiences, and one who will offer you the latest STI statistics in your geographic area and awkwardly inform you of such when you are on your way out the door.