After studying the ins and outs of sexually transmitted diseases tirelessly all week, it was time to get on the line (ASHA runs an STI question hotline and I was their new recruit). My stomach was filled with giant, heavy butterflies as I sat at my desk waiting for my first call. The phone rang and I took a deep breath. I felt the vibrations of the ring in my heart but steadied my hand and picked up the phone. It was a soft-spoken woman with a good head on her shoulders asking routine questions about genital herpes. Her voice calmed my nerves and relaxed my shoulders and after answering her questions, I felt ready to take on the day. The rest of the calls were very typical and easy and I left with a smile on my face. Little did I know, the next Monday would bring on the big leagues. While most of my answers have been calm “no, you’re not going to get it that way” or “here are your treatment options”, I eventually came across a woman so frightened of her oral herpes diagnosis, she could barely fathom her next steps. I told her that more than 50% of adults have oral herpes and that many people have been in her shoes. In the end, being able to calm her down and make her feel more accepted was very rewarding. So far I’ve learned you never know what you’re gonna get as the next caller was a man who cleaned sex toys with rubbing alcohol between partners-Ouch! Water and mild soap please!
But overall, over the past few days I have learned that there is no better feeling than hearing the words “thank you, you’ve really helped” or hearing the caller’s tone drop from frightened and alone to comforted and ready for the next steps. Information truly is power. Also, it needs to be known that being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection does not end anyone’s ability to have a full and satisfying sexual life. I hope that as we overcome stigma and the misinformation of STIs, we will be able to live more harmoniously with each other and accept that every person’s sexual experience is different and of equal worth and importance. As I continue taking calls, I hope to add more blog posts. I expect the next two months to be one of the greatest (and most interesting!) learning experiences of my life so far and I hope I can share part of that with you.
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