Loudspeaker Letters: On STDs and Being a Teen

Introducing Loudspeaker Letters. Each week, we'll share a letter that someone in our community has written to their younger self-- the letter they wish they had been given while enduring a difficult experience: fertility issues, fibroids, postpartum recovery, adolescence, miscarriage, and much more.

This week, Meagan implores her teenage self to use a condom—not only hormonal birth control—during sex. She explains the reality of contracting gonorrhea and HPV with pre-cancerous cells through unprotected sex and how those diagnoses carried her down a years-long path of painful and terrifying procedures. So often, it's hard to know what to say when someone we care about is navigating a challenging time related to physical and emotional health. We created this series for two reasons: to help foster empathy and communication (because by hearing words of comfort, you may be inspired to share some or all of them with people in your own life) and to create a well of communal knowledge on resiliency.

Through this resource, we are able to acknowledge how far we’ve come as individuals and weave a thread of lived experience through one another. These are the words of wisdom we’d send our past selves—long before we knew what was coming. If you would like to submit your own Loudspeaker Letter for consideration, please e-mail us and we will send you a short brief. Thank you for sharing your stories with our lovely community.

Artwork: Female Nude, Carl Newman, Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery


 

To My Younger Self,

I am so proud of you for taking the initiative as a teenage girl to get on birth control and prevent an unwanted pregnancy. There is so much pressure surrounding the decision to become sexually active at this age, and the question of how to do it safely only complicates the decision even more. But, I will say this—please know that the burden that you and your body will carry when it comes to sex is not confined to pregnancy. Taking birth control might feel like a safe shield of armor, but what it does not protect you from is Sexually Transmitted Diseases. For many STDs, Men show no symptoms of infection and are essentially “silent carriers”, leaving women to deal with the physical, mental, and emotional trauma if infected.

In the future, there will come a time when a man tells you that you do not need to use a condom because he has had a vasectomy. You will want to believe that he is trustworthy and that you can feel safe with him. But please believe me when I say—you are not. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Tell him has to wear a condom anyway. Because trusting him will end up in you being infected with gonorrhea.

However, the unpleasant pain of a gonorrhea infection is no match for the havoc that an HPV infection will wreak on your life throughout your twenties and thirties. An infection that you will have no idea you had, because there are no symptoms. You will only find out because your best friend insisted you consider vaccination. Vaccination requires a test prior, which will come up positive. After an incredibly painful procedure called a colposcopy, you will learn that the HPV infection has progressed to the stage of pre-cancerous. That is what HPV turns into—Cancer. Cervical Cancer. Silently. Asymptomatically. Many women don’t even know they have it until the point of near-death. The pre-cancerous cells will require removal via a LEEP procedure. This procedure is painful, invasive, and incredibly scary. But, this LEEP procedure is only the start of many years of abnormal pap smears and subsequent colposcopies. One of which will result in you passing out in the doctor’s office from blood loss and anxiety. You will also be affected by this procedure fifteen years later when you do decide to become pregnant—The LEEP removes a part of your cervix, so you will have to see a high-risk specialist and undergo additional observation of the pregnancy to ensure you can carry to term.

But, I’m not sure which is worse.. the trauma and lasting effects from all of these procedures or the emotional pain and embarrassment you will have to endure after you confide in a co-worker about all you have gone through and they turn around and tell everyone you work with. Sparking months of gossip and judgment behind your back and to your face.

I know you cannot see into the future, but if you could, here is what I would tell you. When it comes to choosing to be intimate with someone…Insist that they wear a condom, request an STD test prior to becoming intimate, and most importantly-- enjoy your sex life and honor your sexuality while also making sure to value your body and ensure that the person you are going to be intimate with is trustworthy and worthy of receiving such a gift.

Love,

Meagan