Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Feel Good After Catching an STD?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Hello Professor Foxy,
In feminist spaces, I see a fair amount of talk about how to have safer sex, but little to none about what to do when safer sex fails; lots of discussion about how to protect yourself, but not very much about how to deal with it when you’re the one people need protecting from.
I’m a 22-year-old woman with a slightly checkered sexual past that I never had any guilt or shame about until about four months ago, when I was diagnosed with genital herpes. I contracted it through a one night stand and I am having some intense issues with that, given that all the herpes support that I’ve found around the internet is trying really hard to reinforce this idea that “not everyone contracts herpes through sleeping around!” well, I did. And now I’m suffering the consequences. I don’t even have the consolation of slut-shaming self-righteousness. I can’t get this idea that I’m being punished out of my head. I went from sex-positive queer to a self-hating emotional wreck in the course of a day.
Where do I go from here? I cry all the time and I feel like miserable shit constantly. Nothing seems to matter anymore. I am obviously not in any state to be sleeping with anyone, but what’s more, I often can’t even look at or touch my own body without flipping out. Showering and getting dressed often set off tears for me because I have to touch myself down there. I used to think I was cute but I hate myself for thinking that now (because where did cute get me? Diseased.). Even in totally non-sexual situations, being touched or being expected to be present in my body feels grotesque and painful. I feel like a scare tactic, a cautionary tale, a non-person. Mostly I just want to be able to not hate myself, to not cry all the time, and to be able to fully inhabit my body instead of feeling divorced from it.
I am not asking for advice on how to find partners, nor reassurance that it will eventually happen… because frankly, that seems completely irrelevant and useless to me now. I am asking for advice on how to come to terms with my own body.
Thank you.
PS. I don’t have the time or money for therapy. I especially don’t have the time or emotional energy to seek out a queer-positive, anti-racist, non-judgmental therapist. Please respect that and don’t make that suggestion.

Dear Anonymous –
No therapy suggestion then and you’re also right, no point in talking about partners when you are not comfortable with yourself.
What comes through in your letter is how much you blame yourself, how dirty you think you are, and how sad you feel. Such strong language putting yourself down “you’re the one people need protecting from.” They don’t need protection from you, they need protection from the disease you have. This disease does not define you, it does not change who you are. And somehow you need to get to a place where you can believe that.
It is really hard to sustain being a sex-positive queer. Everything around you tells you that you should be ashamed and when something happens – someone calling you a slut (when you are not owning the word), a sex partner saying something mean, catching an STD- that throws you off your self-confidence and all those judgments that you have successfully shucked off come rushing back in.
You are not a bad person. STDs are overwhelming the luck of the draw and you could have slept with just one person and gotten it. In all of this, keep in mind you are not only, herpes is one of the most common STDs, the stats go from 1 in 4 people having herpes from 1 in 6. As cheesy as it sounds, you are not alone.
You need to take time to heal. Sex was likely a way that you connected with your body and you need to find a way to reconnect that is not sexual. Yoga, walking, running, anything that puts you back in touch with your physical self.
Do you have friends you can talk to about this? What always amazes me is how many people feel disconnected from their body, sometimes because of catching an STD, sometimes for another reason. Find a person to talk to about this, you don’t even need to start off by telling them you caught an STD, just say you are feeling disconnected from your body and talk through it with them.
Give yourself time to cry, time to freak out. Take little steps to coming back into your physical self. Again, physical movement will help. Try touching your arms, your fingertips, your toes. Feel the parts of you that feel safe. You can do this.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

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