How you dress for a date on which you plan to tell the person you're falling for that you have an incurable sexually transmitted infection? Given the numbers, you'd think that I wouldn't feel so alone: HPV is the most common STI in the U. Most sexually active adults get it at some point, with nearly 60 million women—38 percent of the entire female population—infected at any given time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I'd wear a shirt that didn't have holes in it, at the very least. In the seven days until each of my test results came back negative, purple shadows formed under my eyes and I bit my nails down to the quick.
It's a disease, one with symptoms that range from embarrassing to deadly—in some cases, genital warts; for high-risk strains, the possibility of cervical cancer. It was the day after my 24th birthday, and I shivered on the examination table, a paper gown across my lap, clenching my knees together as my cheeks flushed red. For weeks after my diagnosis, I wallowed in a sullen bog.
It's not a personality quirk I can explain away or an endearing habit a man might learn to love. When my doctor first told me I had two strains of HPV, low-risk (the warts) and high-risk (the cancer causer), I was struck speechless. Yet after a certain point, I had trusted each enough to skip using a condom. So there I was, stumbling out of the drugstore into the blinding afternoon light with an expensive tube of ointment in my purse, specially formulated to kill rogue skin cells in my body's most tender region.
Prodded by friends, family, and my mother's polite request for grandchildren, I eventually worked up the nerve to start dating again.
I filled out an online profile and soon found myself trading e-mails with a bumbling, sincere computer programmer named Mike, who admitted a weakness for Hello Kitty, chili fries, and rare birds.
Near the end of our second marathon phone call, he said, "At this point, I wouldn't care if you had two heads." What about an STI?On our first date, he snatched my heart from its shroud over spicy tuna and shrimp rolls at a tiny restaurant a few blocks from the beach.I tucked my fingers into the crook of his arm and touched his lustrous brown curls.After dark, we padded onto the sand and kissed under a patient moon.The next day, my brain roiled with conflicting visions of our future.Like waves crashing against a seawall, my desire collided with the barrier of my still-hidden illness. No question, this was when I would have to tell him.