Avoid Google Images: What to Do When You’re Worried About Having an STBBI


How I demystified STBBIs to my friends by telling them about my self-sampling experience at Prelib.

This article is presented by Prelib.

It was a Friday night like any other. My friends and I got together to order food and watch the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

While we were talking about our day, I mentioned the STBBI screening appointment I’d had in the afternoon. My friends’ puzzled silence ensued. After all, I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for years, so… why get tested?

Michelle broke the silence, visibly surprised, and asked, “Did you cheat on your boyfriend?” She’s well aware that we’re in a monogamous relationship.

I smiled. “Goodness, no! I just haven’t been tested since we’ve been together and wanted to make sure that I didn’t have an STBBI.”

Pierrot, skepticism incarnate, was convinced that something was wrong with my story. “So, he cheated on you, then?”

I burst out laughing, the idea was absurd. “Can you imagine?! I wouldn’t have announced it to you like that! No, but in my sexology courses, I realized that you could have an STBBI and not have any symptoms. So, I just wanted to make sure that everything was in good order. We both got tested for peace of mind.”

Sabrina, who had remained silent until then, declared with a presidential air, “Ignorance is bliss, especially when you have Google Images to convince you that things are all good because your junk doesn’t look like anything in the pictures!”

I gently corrected my friend. “My dear, we may have seen PowerPoints about STBBIs in high school, but that doesn’t make us STBBI experts. Besides, Google Images always shows the most extreme cases, which isn’t reliable. It’s like thinking I can live in New York because I watched Sex and the City. Pure fiction. Only a specialized nurse practitioner or doctor can give you a reliable diagnosis.”

Michelle chimed in. “Fine, but I for one decided to stop seeing my doctor for sexual health concerns. Last time, he gave me a disapproving look when I told him the number of partners I had had this year and made macho comments when I told him that I slept with both girls and guys.”

Touched by my friend’s disclosure, and aware that this is unfortunately not an isolated experience, I replied, “Eww. What you’re saying is important. It’s understandable that it wouldn’t make you want to go back and see him… What do you do now, when something worries you?”

Michelle tightens an invisible tie. “Call me ‘Doctor WebMD.’ Seriously though, I know the symptoms of the clap and the clam like the back of my hand.”

I reply: “Okay, but you are aware that you can have the clam or gonorrhea without any symptoms, right?”

Seeking reassurance, Pierrot joins the conversation. “You’re scaring me with all this. This is exactly why I never do anything with someone I don’t know very well.”

Concerned, I press on. “It’s not just people who have many partners who can have an STBBI. Another issue is that, for many STBBIs, it can take years before you have visible symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not transmissible. I have no symptoms—and neither does my boyfriend—but getting tested regularly nevertheless gives me some peace of mind.”

Silence. I was worried that I might have scared my friends, but I thought it was important to clarify everything and inform them of the risks associated with STBBIs.

I continued to clear up any misunderstandings.

“Also, FYI, just because you don’t practice penetration doesn’t mean you’re safe. Some STBBIs are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact!”

Sabrina stopped midbite, visibly surprised by this revelation. “Wait. You can get an STBBI even without penetration?”

Michelle, always ready to share her knowledge, took over. “That, I know! You can get an STBBI in different ways. It can be through skin-to-skin contact, contact with infected mucous membranes, or bodily fluids, including blood. It depends on the STBBI, actually.”

Sabrina turned toward me. “But you only sleep with your boyfriend, so what’s the point of getting tested if you don’t have other partners?”

I took a moment to choose my words carefully. “Actually, the last time I got tested was before we were together. Given that some STBBIs can cause significant damage to your health, I prefer to be sure. If I have, say, asymptomatic gonorrhea, I’d then know about it and be able to prevent it from getting worse. This is why it’s really important to get tested even when you don’t show any symptoms.”

As everyone’s attention shifted to the discussion, Michelle, ever pragmatic, helped herself to more rice before asking, “So, how did your appointment go?”

I smiled because I knew that my experience would reassure her. “That’s what was so nice! It was really easy. I created my profile on Prelib’s website, took my own samples to test for gonorrhea and chlamydia once I arrived at the clinic, and made a phone appointment to receive my results. That’s it. Honestly, it took as long as ordering and picking up tonight’s takeout.”

With a knowing wink, Michelle continues, “And what was the doctor like? I’m asking for a friend.”

I laughed and then replied, “I didn’t even see a doctor. I saw a nurse who checked my ID and drew a blood sample. Then she gave me a self-sampling kit so that I could take the other samples myself!”

“That doesn’t seem so bad. It has been a long time since I last got tested,” Sabrina reflected. “Not since Carl, anyway.”

Upon hearing Carl’s name, Michelle couldn’t help but laugh. “Hey, it’s been a while for me too. Maybe we should go together and make a date of it!”

“If you two go, I’ll go with you,” said Pierrot. “I also want to know if I have an STBBI, and it would make me less anxious if we went together!”

“Plus, if one of us turns out to be positive for something, we’ll be able to go through it together and support each other!” adds Sabrina.

And that’s how my three friends found themselves taking charge of their sexual health on a Thursday morning with a routine screening at the Prelib clinic, rewarding themselves afterwards with vegan ice cream. All that’s left to do now is wait for the results!