“You never know what might be at the back of someone’s throat,” Berndt said, sitting up from the sand. I turned over, a little surprised, and looked at him. I’d asked whether he was into the cruising that happened on the beach at night, but was expecting a different sort of answer. “You can get chlamydia or gonorrhea,” he continued, “just by sticking your cock in a stranger’s mouth.”
We were at Playa de la Bassa Ronda together, a beach in Sitges, Spain, spending the afternoon there to get to know one another a little more. We'd only met two nights before at a gay club in town, and Berndt was only there for a couple of more days. He was visiting from Copenhagen, and had this Nordic look with stark blonde hair, a chiseled face and a body like a 1960s movie star—he was classically good looking. Despite my attraction to him, this was nothing more than a holiday fling; I was only in Spain for a couple of weeks so it was as temporary as temporary could be and we both knew it. There was no need to even discuss it.
Talking about STIs wasn’t an ideal beach conversation either, especially with a fling. The funny thing was that I’d actually wanted to talk to him about it but couldn't find the right time to bring it up so I was grateful that he'd inadvertently mentioned the throat thing. I didn’t have an STI or anything, but lately I've been trying to normalize these sort of conversations. I have to admit though, I still found them difficult to discuss, particularly with handsome Nordic men.
“That’s true,” I finally said. “There’s always a risk when you're cruising.” That exact thing had happened to me not long ago, though honestly it hadn’t deterred me from cruising. Still, I had gotten a horrible case of chlamydia and all I’d done in the weeks leading up to that was receive oral sex from strangers in sex clubs and parks, for the most part. The chlamydia that I had was so bad that it took three rounds of antibiotics to cure it. After the second treatment the doctor at the sexual health clinic had given up, but I insisted on the third, which turned out to be the charm, evidentially.
STIs have been on the rise for a long time now and they're becoming a serious problem. Not many people are talking about this because there is the assumption that if you contract one you can just take an antibiotic and be gone with it, which is true for the most part—for now. With something like gonorrhea though, we’re down to one last effective class of antibiotic, so we may face some problems in the future.
After my horrible chlamydia experience, where I had symptoms for close to two months, and the treatments weren’t working, I promised myself that I’d do everything I can to at least normalize conversations around STIs in my own life since abstinence definitely wasn’t an option. And there I was, lightly caressing the back of Berndt, a stranger basically, in the sun, while having a conversation about STIs. We even talked about PrEP that afternoon.
These conversations are very important because condoms don’t always protect against STIs, so it’s vital to start having these collective discussions about them. What many people don’t realize (hence the need for the conversations) is that some may be infected yet they not show any symptoms of the infections. If they don’t show symptoms, then they don’t get tested when they may actually have one of these STIs, and be spreading them without even realizing it. That’s a problem and why it’s important to get tested regularly, symptoms or not.
Even if people do get tested STIs, they may only get blood and urine tests, which is problematic too. Comprehensive testing includes throat and rectal swabs as well—again, many people don’t know this and you may even have to ask the nurse for these swabs. This is why it’s absolutely important to talk about STIs as it is a way to curb infection rates.
I'm learning that it's crucial to find that “in” for these conversations. In our case, a discussion about public sex lead to STIs, which wasn’t even my intention, but I might try that again in the future. I also find that discussing PrEP, whether you’re on it or not, is a good way to lead into a conversation about STIs. Then there’s just straight up asking. That works too. Though it may seem like a mood killer, I’ll tell you what’s even worse—having to tell someone that you just met and like that you can’t have sex with them because you have a horrible case of “the clap” that just won’t go away. That’s a much more difficult conversation, believe me!
By Mike Miksche - Mike's work has appeared in Instinct, The Gay and Lesbian Review and Daily Xtra. His first novel, “Paris Demands” is out now by Lethe Press.
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