From Monogamy To Open Marriage is a weekly column devoted to the discussion of pursuing sex and love outside marriage.
When we stopped being sexually monogamous, we decided to get tested for STDs every three months. The last time we were tested was in April. I’m the one that makes the appointments, and I always procrastinate. Usually, I only procrastinate for a week or two at most. This time, I put it off for almost six weeks. When I called to make an appointment, the clinic was booked for another three weeks. The receptionist reminded me that they accepted walk-ins on certain days, so we decided to go the minute the doors opened on the next walk-in day.
We arrived at the clinic ten minutes early, so we had to sit in the car and wait. My husband scrolled through e-mails on his phone while I assessed the other vehicles in the parking lot to make sure none of my teenage sons, their girlfriends, or friends happened to be popping in for birth control, testing, or another type of reproductive care.
Every time we come to the clinic, I imagine a variation of the same scenario in my head.
Usually, I imagine that while I’m fastidiously filling out the intake forms and my oldest son and his girlfriend walk in to fill her birth control prescription. Sometimes, I picture a close friend’s daughter or one of my nieces walking through the door for a pregnancy test or abortion. Other times, I imagine one of my friends walking in with their daughter who happens to need STD testing just like me. For their sake and mine, I hope this never happens.
Each time, I realize this is one of the only places I feel self-conscious about my age.
I can say with reasonable confidence that we’re the only married couple in our 40s sitting in the crowded waiting room. We handed over insurance cards and paid our co-pays. We moved to a different waiting area and tried to predict how long we’d be there.
When I was younger, a long wait in a place like this would have stressed me out. These days, I’m glad to wait. I’m glad that they’re taking patients with needs that are more urgent than ours first. I don’t mind that they’re overbooked and understaffed. I’m just glad this clinic is here.
45 minutes went by, and I counted the people who were there before me and predicted that we wouldn’t be waiting much longer. The lab techs called each of us separately. This time, my husband was first. He left and returned in about 15 minutes. He told me that his rapid HIV test is negative. I gave him a subtle thumbs up, and we continued to wait until my name was called. He stepped out to take a business call and while he’s outside, they called me in.
I answered all the questions with minimal hesitation. My OBGYN asks some of these questions every year at my annual check-up, but because I’m married and ‘older’ he stopped asking: “How many new sexual partners have you had since your last visit?” and “Do you have unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex?” and “Are you presenting symptoms that concern you today?”
While I could very well disclose details like these to him, I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t. He’s friends with people I know. His brother (a pediatrician) treats my sons. I’ve seen him at local events. His son was on the same little league team as one of my sons. I don’t want him to know that I had a threesome with a couple two months ago or that my husband had a condom slip off when he was with one of his partners recently.
These lab techs ask me questions about my sexual history in the same tone that the waitress at the diner asks if I want french fries with my meal. Oddly, this warms my heart.
I dread the process of STD testing, but at the same time, I love it. There is never any judgment at this clinic. I never feel I need to hide anything. While (so far) we always come away with negative results across the board, we still worry that eventually, we won’t be so fortunate. The long wait at the clinic is over, and the real waiting for the results begins. No matter how careful we are when we have sex with others, I always obsess on the “what ifs” while we wait for test results. By this time next week, I hope for a phone call from the clinic that states that all tests are negative again. I also hope that everyone we’ve had sex with in the past three months shows up at this (or any other) clinic and goes through the very same thing.