While Megan Thee Stallion dubbed Summer 2019 a Hot Girl Summer, I felt lukewarm about mine. Before the summer, I had a well-paid freelance writing client and a part-time job while I was building my erotic coaching business.
When summer hit, my client decided not to renew my contract. I was overwhelmed with discouragement and left with a part-time income. I also received snide comments about being a sex coach before my client’s decision, which made me question my capabilities.
Since I experienced a major pay cut, I reapplied for health insurance through my state. Unfortunately, my state terminated my health insurance until I provided all the necessary documents for my part-time job and self-employment income.
My love life was no better. I had broken things off with my six-year “situationship” and the guy I’d briefly been with was MIA.
A few weeks after being involved with Mr. MIA, I started feeling an itchy burning sensation around my mouth area and I saw a ring of small red bumps on the inside of my top lip.
Since I had no insurance, I googled my symptoms and the first thing I saw was herpes. Granted, I’ve been told to never self-diagnose but since I had NO insurance, it was hard to resist Google MD.
In a panic, I read article after article to learn more about herpes. According to the San Francisco City Clinic,
“Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV.
HSV-1 usually causes fever blisters and cold sores on the mouth, but can also cause sores on the genitals.
HSV-2 usually causes blisters and sores on [and around] the genitals.
As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about the abstinence-based sex education I received as a teenager.
I recall church youth leaders using Skittles to bring STI awareness and one of my favorite ministers bluntly saying he would never date someone with herpes. Needless to say, I was filled with shame.
The next day, I went to work but I wasn’t fully present. All I could focus on were the articles I read the previous night. It also didn’t help that during my lunch break, I noticed a bump formed on my lower lip.
I was in such a whirlwind, that a relative of mine connected me with a gynecologist (GYN) to talk about my symptoms over the phone. She told me I could have herpes but encouraged me to stay calm because outbreaks happen under immense stress.
Thankfully, I was referred to one of the NYC Health Clinics for free testing and treatment soon after our conversation. There, the clinician told me it would take ten business days to get my results. My anxiety was through the roof waiting for answers but watching Ella Dawson’s Ted Talk about herpes put me at ease.
In the video, one of the most profound things Dawson says is, “telling someone that you have an S.T.I should not be brave or shocking. It should be normal, and kind of boring.”
Dawson’s story, along with stories from my friends who have herpes, assured me of at least one thing–regardless of the outcome, I did not need to feel ashamed.
The day finally came for me to check my results and I found out I was negative.
That same week, my paperwork was approved for new health insurance. I decided to get a second opinion from my health care provider.
It turns out I was having an allergic reaction the entire time and my sexual transmitted infection (S.T.I) results came back negative again.
After reflecting on my experience, it hit me that while Megan thee Stallion is the leader of Hot Girl Summer and is one of the female rappers leading a pleasure politics revolution, there hasn’t been much conversation around sexual health in pop culture.
“We live in an era of sex-positivity — until we get positive test results… What makes this especially surprising is that S.T.I.s are so ubiquitous. Consider that 50 percent of sexually active people will have at least one S.T.I. by age 25 (HPV is the most common) and there are over 110 million new and existing S.T.I. cases each year in the United States. People are clearly not shy sharing with me, so the only logical conclusion is the sexual revolution stopped short of liberating people from the shame and stigma of sexually transmitted infections.
Since September is Sexual Health Awareness Month, via the American Sexual Health Association, I wanted to not only share my experience but also contribute to the larger conversation about sexually transmitted infections.
We have to destigmatize S.T.I’s and have nonjudgmental conversations about sexual health to truly be liberated as a society, especially as women.
Currently, I’m working on unlearning internal S.T.I stigmas, recommitting to being a coach and redefining what a hot girl lifestyle looks like for me. I hope my experience inspires others to do the same.