"I Became Obsessed with STD’s": The Long-Term Damage of Sexual Assault
By Rebekah Cheung
When you look back, 2016 wasn’t really a great year for anyone, Trump became President, we voted to leave Europe, and I was sexually assaulted. Any survivor’s experience of sexual assault/rape is different. But as a society we tend to treat sexual assault as an isolated incident, as if it doesn’t affect other areas of your life.
It’s been over two years since I’ve been raped, and for a solid six months after it, I became obsessed with STD’s. Prior to the rape, although undiagnosed until last year, I suffered from OCD anyway. I have more than enough memories of growing up with obsessive and intrusive thoughts, but when the rape happened, my compulsive thoughts turned to STDs, specifically the incurable ones, like herpes and HIV.
My therapist told me that a rape survivor can polarise to two extremes; either becoming promiscuous and caring little for STD’s, and becoming stiff scared about your sexual health that you abstain. But mine started the day immediately after the rape.
After refusing the guy multiple times, I started to run out of excuses, so I stated that I didn’t want to because I didn’t know if he had been tested - that was my final excuse, but I was sure that it would work - it was logical. It wasn’t something you can really argue with. “I’m clean”, he said, “anyway even if I did have anything, the only thing you could catch would be herpes, and nearly everyone has that”. I was drunk, he was sober - so my last excuse failed, and I just went through with it. Although it wasn’t the stereotypical view I had of rape, being dragged into a back alleyway by a stranger, my body froze and just did as he said, because what other option did I have?
Before I knew it, I was woken up at 3am by him telling me that I needed to leave - so I walked home without a coat, on a November morning, and went to bed. The next morning I felt dirty - used, and all of a sudden I recall him mentioning herpes, and I religiously started researching it - the symptoms, the probabilities, what herpes would mean if I had another partner.
I panicked - I thought that if I had it, then that was the end of any hope for someone else wanting to be with me.
This carried on for a few months - my work breaks would consist of me looking up the different things I could have caught - herpes, HIV or syphilis. I got myself tested once a month, obsessed with making sure I was clean.
A few facts about STD testing and herpes (information I only know due to rigorous and obsessive research online https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/genital-herpes/ )
Herpes has two forms; type 1 and type 2. Type 1 tends to manifest on the mouth, which people tend to know as cold sores, whereas type 2 is mostly situated in the downstairs area, but both can appear vice versa. However, it is the type 2, genital herpes, that carries a significant amount stigma, even though they rarely carry any health risks. For both types, you could have the virus, but have no symptoms, and it most likely will not manifest itself. So the NHS typically does not test for it, unless you have the lesions, which they need for a swab, which was the only way to confirm that you were infected with it.
So even though I was constantly getting tested, the fear of the unknown when it came to having or not having herpes caused me so much distress. For about a month I vigilantly gave myself body checks to make sure I wasn’t getting symptoms. I remember that one f the days when I was particularly panicky, I thought my sore vagina was herpes, when in reality, my period was coming.
It was a month later when I met my now boyfriend of two years, Laurie. Although I was ecstatic that I had met such a fantastic boy, my obsession for STDs became stronger than it was before. Did I have to tell him that I may have herpes? Did I actually have any evidence that I had it? My obsession fuelled even more by the fact that my mum sent me articles, daily, about how dangerous STDs were, how it could prevent me from having children, but didn’t know about the rape.
I grew up in such a loving household, but when it came to sex, everything was very hush hush. Of course, my mum told me all about the birds and the bees, but as I grew older, and finally coming of age, the general consensus was don’t have sex until you’re married. My mum and dad have only ever been with each other, so I felt that I had to follow suit. So much so that when I lost my virginity, I rang my mum, ridden with guilt, and when she later found out that I was having casual sex, she made it very clear about how she disapproved. So with numerous articles at my fingertips, I was able to learn everything I could, and started to fixate on AIDs and HIV.
The thing about OCD, and how irrational it can make you, it doesn’t matter that I found numerous articles, or NHS pages, that stated that HIV was no longer a death warrant, and the medication meant that it was basically impossible to pass it on, I still believed I was going to die. The three blood tests that I begged the doctor for, all came back as clear, but that provided no relief.
Laurie, although had only really just met me, helped me with coming to terms with the rape, as I hadn’t really told anyone else, so I felt I could tell him about my fixation with STD’s. I think I waited until our fifth date (lol), and asked “would you leave me if I had HIV?”. “No” he said, “why do you have it?”. Hahah not exactly. I told him everything, and he told me that he loved me, and he wouldn’t leave me for anything, even if I infected him with a killer disease.
Like I’ve said, the irrationality of OCD means that even this reassurance eased my mind. Being raped makes you feel dirty anyway, but then with the fear that you’re infected with something, it makes you detest your body. The only way I could handle it was by hurting my body, burning it or cutting it. Even though it provided no relief, I wanted to be tested again, but the doctor refused me, stating that there is no possibility of having HIV. When I got drunk I cried to anyone, and everyone, that I thought I had AIDs.
I wanted to write about this, because although I really am bearing all, this is a problem we really don’t address. After my rape, and especially when I had these compulsive thoughts, I felt really alone. It feels like you’re living in your own head, and if you explain to anyone what’s happening inside, that they’ll mock you. I remember I told my flatmate that I was worried about catching STD’s, and she always just used to laugh at me. So I get it, not many people do get it, which is why we need better, and more comprehensive education about sexual assault, and the repercussions of it