We need to talk about Herpes.

I’ve recently started working in sexual health services and am also a haver of sex, so there’s some personal feelings I have about this stuff as well as some sciencey facts that I need to lay on you, but first some observations I have made since working in sexual health.

1. Even in a sexual health clinic people are afraid to say the word ‘sex’. They often say ‘oh, you know” and look away and cough.

2. People on the whole have very little knowledge about how sexually transmitted infections are passed from one person to another. I saw a patient this week who had a series of insect bites on their forearm that thought they’d caught from a blow job.

3. Lots of people are not using condoms anywhere near as often as the health service would like them to.

These three things lead me to believe that people are going about having sex in a mostly terrified bewilderment and that makes me sad. Stigma is such a pain in the butt, much like gonorrhoea except much more prevalent. The difference is that unlike the new antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhoea that they found in Australia recently, stigma can be cured at least in part, just by talking.

Here is the personal anecdote section of the blog piece:

When I was younger and eager to impress my sexual partners, I used to get Brazillian waxes. The thing about Brazillian waxes is they rip little holes in your skin in areas that are warm and often moist and are by all accounts considered perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. Some people are lucky and they don’t get spots and ingrown hairs and cysts after having a Brazillian waxes but I was not one of those people. Apparently my whole family is just ‘cysty’. Thanks, genetics.

Anyway, many years after I stopped pulling out all my public hair with hot wax, I still have occasional problems with spots and ingrown hairs and cysts and sometimes I get worried that maybe they’re not just spots or ingrown hairs or cysts and that in fact they are ‘The Herpes’. FYI, calling HSV ‘The Herpes” is really stigmatising and I’ve heard actual Doctors say it to patients and it needs to stop. Wording is important.

I went to get one such spot swabbed a few weeks ago, to check what was up and while I was waiting for my results to be texted to me, I had my first conversation with my mother, who is also a nurse, about STI’s. I am 30 years old. This is when she told me that she has had HSV since before I was born and I was reminded how messed up stigma is because a registered nurse was not able to have a conversation about STI’s with her daughter before she became sexually active but instead at the age of 30, when let’s be honest it is waaay too late.

Here is the science bit of the blog post:

HSV I gives you cold sores, HSV II gives Genital Herpes which is basically the same thing.

You can contract HSV and never get symptoms, or you can get symptoms years after first contracting it.

Between 50% and 70% of the population are carrying HSV, 80% of those people don’t know they have it.

The virus is passed easily through skin to skin contact, even when no HSV symptoms are present.

Condoms do not protect against HSV.

Sexual health clinics do not routinely test for HSV because it is so common, they merely treat symptoms.

In most people, after an initial outbreak the virus will lay dormant, they might never have another outbreak in their lives.

For unlucky people who continue to have outbreaks, the virus can be managed with medication.

The only way to avoid it entirely is to not have sex at all.

In the end the results of the swab were negative but given the sciencey facts above, it doesn’t mean I don’t have it.

Loads of us do. So let’s stop calling it ‘The Herpes’. Let’s stop making it the butt of jokes. Let’s talk about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Me, Usher and Chris Bray.

I went to boarding school from the age of 12 until 16. If you’re from the UK reading this then that probably sounds very posh. However, I’m from Australia where no one is really posh and the size of the country and location of schools sometimes means kids go to boarding school.

It was an all girls boarding school with a brother school across town. The two schools encountered one another at McDonalds on Tuesday afternoon in full school uniform or at quarterly school discos surrounded by manufactured smoke in the assembly hall.

In the evening before dinner in the boarding house we would wait for phone calls from the boys school. There was a line of 5 phones in the reception area, overlooked by boarding house staff. If you were upstairs watching TV, you would be called over the intercom, then bolt downstairs to take your call. 

In lots of cases, boys and girls would just want to talk to each other, sometimes without having met or heard of each other before, which is how I fell madly in love with Chris Bray.

The only problem was that Chris Bray had a girlfriend.

I mean in theory it was a problem, my thirteen year old self didn’t really feel it was an ethical issue and I began to pursue him with gusto. I arranged for someone to give him Usher’s ‘You Make Me Wanna’, the CD single, which I had bought for $2 and the mall. He called me up and told me that it had really. made. him. think.

My friends and I analysed and discussed and analysed this for a month leading up to a quarterly disco. He did not dump his girlfriend.

I danced with his cousin Bradley instead. He was the first boy I kissed. I figured it was close enough.

 

Sing Bitch.

In the Philippines. On the island of Guimaras, in the village Kati Kati, I stayed for a week in April. I ate a large amount of mango in between morning visits to hospitals and outpatient clinics in the area. I stayed with a family in a two room house made of branches and breeze blocks with no running water and occasional electricity. The brown outs came mostly at night.The yard was filled with chickens and ducks and dogs, who often made their way into the house. In the afternoons we took part in cultural activities and toured the island.

The Filipino people I met, especially in the week in Kati Kati were real straight talkers. Subtlety doesn’t translate well. The family I stayed with, they must have thought I was a giant. 5’7′ and plus size. I was basically Brienne of Tarth in comparison to my hosts and this did not go without comment.

We had a guide with us who was particularly excited about my size. She was very concerned about where I would sit on the trike so that it wouldn’t topple over. She made comment at dinner that of all their guests, I was most certain to float in the ocean. When we went island hopping she advised me against swimming through a caved area because I would get stuck. Each comment slightly more humiliating than the last.

We’d taken all the village kids with us on this trip to the islands and whilst we were waiting for the jeepney to take us back to the village they found a karaoke machine. I can sing a bit. I do an average Adele impression. So I sang Rolling in the Deep.

The kids all lost their minds.

It turns out that being good at karaoke is a BIG deal in the Philippines. The tour guide wasn’t there when I sang but word got back to her. She had missed Brienne of Tarth singing and she was well upset.

The following day, after some weaving in the local village hall, myself and the other students I’d travelled with were waiting to be driven back to the house when the kids started arranging chairs in front of us.

Then I was told to sing.

The hall full of children fell silent. My face reddened as I explained that I didn’t have any backing music and I didn’t want to sing alone. The tour guide found Rolling in the Deep on her phone and the song began to play.

“Sing,” she said.

The spikes.

Twitter is enraged today because it has stumbled across a picture of some spikes in a doorway where previously people had been known to rough sleep. I agree, this is not a nice thing but I feel we are missing the point.

Firstly, these spikes and many other such deterrents have been used across London for years. I know this because I worked for a homeless outreach team and battled to engage rough sleepers who were so entrenched that they refused to accept help. This is what being homeless does to people, it destroys a person’s sense of worth to the point that either they don’t feel they deserve help or they cannot trust the people trying to give it because they no longer trust anyone. I met with business owners who wanted to know how they could get the person indoors and stop them from frightening or even sometimes harassing their customers. 

As horrific as it must sound, sometimes you have to remove a person’s sleep site in order to engage that person. Rough sleeping is incredibly harmful, it affects a person’s physical and mental health and most importantly their personal safety. Each night you sleep rough you are risking getting a kicking because people do that to homeless people. 

I guarantee that the outreach team in Southwark know about this site and have been trying to stop people rough sleeping there for some time, not because they lack humanity or a sense of community but because rough sleeping kills people. On average, homeless people die 30 years earlier than the rest of the population. It’s a slow suicide. Or sometimes actual suicide. Are businesses and housing associations cool about condoning something that kills people? No. That’s why they’ve put the spikes there. Or made the benches single. Or too narrow to sleep on. Look around you. These measures are in place all over London.

In my time in homeless services I’ve met a very small handful of people who genuinely wanted to drop out of society. They’re not sleeping in high profile places where people put spikes. They’re not rough sleeping in the doorways of private properties. They hide. And to them I say best of luck, that’s your right, to live as you please. To the people sleeping on main streets outside busy buildings, there’s more going on. A significant mental health problem, a drug problem, an alcohol problem, maybe they’ve been ASBOed from most of the borough they have a connection to. They need help. Letting them carry on as they are won’t help them. 

If you’re worried about the spikes maybe instead you could worry about the housing shortage, or the lack of good mental health and drug and alcohol services in your area. Worry about how your local area is dealing with antisocial behaviour. Worry about children’s services, worry about decent homeless liaison teams in hospitals. Worry about the lack of shelters. Worry about the benefit cuts.

Oh and if you see someone rough sleeping in London call No Second Night Out on 0870 3833333. http://www.nosecondnightout.org.uk/ They can get an outreach team to that person within 24 hours, who can start the battle of building trust and getting the person back indoors.

‘Difficult’ with a bow on.

I ‘m a ‘difficult’ woman.

Don’t try and convince me otherwise, my mother would testify to this in court. As would most exes, teachers, acquaintances and hospitality staff who have ever met me.

I used to get upset about it. When I was a kid and my mum used to tell me I was ‘difficult’ with a wee smile, like she was proud, I didn’t understand that it was meant as a compliment.

What it really means is that I know what I want and I’ll make sure you know it too. I’m assertive and opinionated. There are obvious caveats; I won’t blindly wade into arguments without authority on the subject. For the most part, I won’t be rude or mean or vindictive. My assertive nature doesn’t mean I’m immune to wild insecurity but you won’t be able to tell.

This hasn’t always made me very popular. Assertive. Opinionated. These are seen as stereotypically masculine traits.

This is what upset me when I was a kid. Being called ‘difficult’ confirmed my fears that I wasn’t feminine enough to be loved. I couldn’t change these traits so I wore an alice band in my hair every day until I was 27 in hopes of dampening my image as ‘difficult’ but  then I was just ‘difficult’ with a bow on. The older I got, the less it dampened anything.

Think about it. A ‘difficult’ girl with a hair accessory is kind of quirky. She could be your manic pixie dream girl, if only she would keep her voice down. However,  a ‘difficult’ woman with a hair accessory, she might throw things*.

I guess that’s why the Pantene Advert made me cry. http://youtu.be/kOjNcZvwjxI 

*I don’t throw things. I have manners.

Permanent.

When I was 22 I saw The Suicide Girls website for the first time and thought, that’s who I want to be.

I want to be tattooed.

I want to have memories, warnings, art, parts of me, on me. For other people to see. Or not to see, depending on how I felt. It felt powerful.

I had little doubt that I might regret covering my body in ink, but I did once mention to a tattoo artist, seeking approval, that a design I’d thought of was unlikely to cause regret when I was 60.

His thoughts were that if that’s all I had to worry about when I was 60, then I’d be doing very well.

It’s just skin. It’s just a body. My body. Mine.

I claimed parts of myself that I’d once hated with colour and if you don’t like it, I don’t care.

I have cried in a lot of department stores.

Baby
Baby
Baby
Fat
Fat
Chubby not quite Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Fat
Really Fat
Really Fat
Chubby not quite Fat
Fat again
Fat
Fat
Lost 25kg
Nearly average
Chubby
Fat
Really Fat
Lost 30kg
Chubby
Chubby
Chubby
Fat
Fat

For the record, this is my body year by year since birth.

My mum put me on my first diet when I was 5 years old. I had a gym membership by the time I was 13. I’ve paid Jenny Craig large sums of money in various countries to try and control my weight. I’m so angry that I feel that I have to explain this to strangers. That I have tried. That I have failed at being what my mother, my peers, my previous lovers thought I should be.

I grew up in Australia for Christ’s sake. You can’t hide your body there. You have to go to the beach. It’s hot. You can’t wear a cardigan all year round. But. I. Did.

A boy I knew growing up said he could never go out with someone who was over weight because cellulite was disgusting.
A girl I was friends with in 8th grade told me the only reason I was goalie of our soccer team was because I took up half the court.
A boy followed me once making sound effects like I was Godzilla crushing the pavement whilst he walked behind me.

I have cried in a lot of department stores.

I made bargains with my mother throughout my life that if I lost weight she would give me large sums of money. I never managed to which is weird because I LOVE MONEY. I don’t blame her, for her generation looks were everything. I was told repeatedly how beautiful I would be if I. Just. Lost. Weight. One of my first boyfriends nicknamed me ‘no tits fat thighs’. AND I LET HIM. A patient in hospital said I could stand to lose a few pounds THREE WEEKS AGO whilst I was nursing her.

Apparently my body is everyone’s business.

I weigh 16 stone right now. For the record. I have lots of self control and determination. Enough to starve myself for periods of up to a year but that made me far more unhappy than being fat does. I’m a size 16/18 depending on how stretchy the material is in my outfit. I ran a 10K last weekend. I am constantly worried as to whether I have more than one chin. I usually exercise between 4 and 6 days a week. If I’m not on a diet, I am planning my next period of calorie restriction. BUT I AM TIRED. I am tired of thinking about this. I am tired of my body being judged. I am tired of everybody’s body being judged.

I am tired of being judged because I am angry about being judged.

Follow @NurseBlurg

Spitting.

I am not very good at spitting.

Clearly, I had not been paying full enough attention during the scene in Titanic where Kate Winslet is taught how and didn’t realise that this would ever present any problems for me.

Then, I was in a play where I had to spit at one of the other actors. I explained to the director that I was not very good at spitting but she told me to try it anyway.

I declined because I was scared that it would dribble down my chin and the person I fancied in the play would go off me.

In later years I discovered that the person I fancied didn’t like girls anyway and I should have just given it a go because it would have made the scene funnier.

Spray tans remind me of R. Kelly.

I got a spray tan once.

I was 18 at the time and on my way to Cairns to impress a boy whose nickname was ‘Besticle’, like testicle.

I was to be for the week that I had followed him to Cairns, his convenient and part time girlfriend.

He had been sleeping in a van with two other men up until that point. I offered him an opportunity to sleep in a bed in a 2 star motel on a highway, near a beach. I brought a case of beer.

He told me, that he would tell me he loved me only for that week and that I would be his girlfriend only for that week and then I would go back to Sydney and I would not be his girlfriend anymore.

I for some reason thought that this was fine. Technically he broke up with me a week in advance. He was the first person I ever told I loved. I figured I would wear him down.

So before I left for Cairns, I got a spray tan to impress Besticle.

It made me a bit orange. I was worried he wouldn’t fancy me. On the plus side it did make my tummy look a bit like ‘Baby one more time’ era Britney Spears.

The problem with getting a spray tan is that you can’t really wear clothes after it in case the fabric marks your skin. I spent five hours standing in my apartment in the nude after I’d had it done, listening to R. Kelly’s ‘Ignition’, which was very popular at the time.

Besticle did not change his mind at the end of the week.

I don’t know why I have chosen to share this story.

Spray tans remind me of R. Kelly.

My Mexican uti.

I know I already wrote about the horror that was my holiday to cancun but I forgot a bit.

Right now, I’m drinking cranberry juice out of a litre carton in a black bag, on a bus. I am trying to stave off a uti and no one anywhere sells reasonable sized containers of the stuff, which reminded me.

I was getting a uti in Mexico. On top of everything else. Maybe it was just dehydration. Who knows?

We were staying in an all inclusive resort with wristbands whose colours indicated how posh your inclusive deal was.

I had a budget wristband. All drinks were included *except* cranberry juice which had been reserved for the luxury wristband wearers.

Cranberry juice is very obviously a luxury beverage.

It took me half an hour and twenty dollars to bribe the male waitstaff for a carton of the juice.

There was a certain amount of begging involved. Like so many things, I can’t really believe that happened.