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Last week, I went in for another round of regular STD screening. I recommend that anyone who's sexually active do this, of course, particularly before taking on a new lover or when a lover's partner status has changed. In polyamorous relationships, it seems like basic common sense.

It will probably never win any awards for fun things to do; I don't see Carnival Cruise Lines adding it to the featured activities on any of their vacation packages, for example. Generally, it's one part filling out paperwork, one part having a needle inserted in one's body in a non-erotic context, and one hundred and fifty-seven parts sitting in a waiting room playing with one's smart phone or, barring that, staring at a crack in the linoleum that looks just a bit like Richard Nixon's face.

And listening to the person behind the counter answer the phone.

It's the phone part that was, for me, interesting enough to warrant a blog post. Now, mind you, whenever she answered the phone, I could only hear one part of the conversation, so what was going on on the other end of the line is a matter of pure conjecture. Still, on one occasion, the conversation (or at least the bit of it I could hear) hit a wall, to such an extent that if it were a scene in a movie I was writing a snarky review of, I would say that the dialog...wedged. It's one of the few occasions I can think of dialog wedging in real life.

The conversation seemed to be going so well at first, until it hit the wall. It went something like this:

"Good afternoon, how can I help you? [pause] Yes, you need an appointment to come in. [pause] I have an opening at 11 AM on Friday. [pause] Later? Sure, no problem. I have another opening at 4 PM Friday, how does that sound? [pause] Okay, great. What will you be coming in for? [pause] Normal screening? No problem. Are you male or female? [pause] Okay, and are you under 24 years old? [pause] No? Okay, great. Are you having any symptoms? [pause] No symptoms, just checking. Right. Have you ever had sex with another man? [pause] Sex. With another man. [pause] Yes, that's right, have you ever had sexual intercourse with another man? [pause] With a partner who is also male. [pause] Have you had a sexual partner who is a man? [long pause] Have you had sexual activity with a partner who is male. [pause] Yes, sex. With a man. Have you had a sex partner who is a man. [long pause]"

At this point, I was called in for the sticking-with-needles bit, so I never learned if that conversation eventually unwedged itself or not. I do admit, however, that there is a bit of me, deep down inside, that suspects that if the question poses that much of a puzzler, the answer is likely something along the lines of "Yes, but I don't want to admit to it."

I suppose there are many take-home lessons that could be learned from that. For me, the one that seems most obvious is "this is one of many reasons it's stupid to shame folks based on who they have sex with."


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 19th, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
I appreciate the humour in the situation.
But what I am wondering is whether it is wise to ask these questions on the phone. If a person is uncertain about coming, this could make him or her feel worse, activate shame and/or insecurities, and ultimately result in not showing up. Why not complete this questionnaire on a person who actually arrives?
Jun. 19th, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
Y'know, that thought did occur to me as well. And the same questions are on the paperwork that one fills out when one arrives there, so I'm not sure what the purpose of asking on the phone is.
Jun. 19th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
When you're making $10/hr asking questions that you've been told are required to ask...you ask.
Jun. 19th, 2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
I'm guessing the person on the other side was explaining that he's not gay.
Jun. 20th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
Ditto. And wondering why the receptionist kept asking about sex with men.
Jun. 20th, 2012 01:16 am (UTC)
It's a thing that happens in the sexual health world -- many places have stopped asking if people identify as "gay" and instead ask if people are "men who have sex with men" because there's a class of men who have sex with other men, but who will insist they're not gay (or bisexual).
Jun. 20th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC)
Yes. I understand why, too. But having heard the receptionist on the phone with this guy repeating the question so many times, I would start to suspect he never has sex with men and wonders why on earth the receptionist keeps asking.
Jun. 20th, 2012 02:07 am (UTC)
I can script why:

"...just checking. Right. Have you ever had sex with another man?"


"Sex. With another man."

You mean like fucking?

"Yes, that's right, have you ever had sexual intercourse with another man?"

With a DUDE?

"With a partner who is also male."

Are you kidding?

"Have you had a sexual partner who is a man?"

What are you trying to say?

"Have you had sexual activity with a partner who is male."

Are you asking if I've ever had gay sex?

"Yes, sex. With a man. Have you had a sex partner who is a man."

What are you implying?

And so on. It could almost be out of a Python sketch. The guy either couldn't wrap his brain around HIM doing "teh gay" or he couldn't admit that he DID and was worried that rubbing two cocks together generates an STD.

At least that's where I'd bet.

Jun. 20th, 2012 02:29 am (UTC)
Alternate hypothesis:

Have you ever had sex with another man?

Sorry, can you repeat that?

Sex. With another man.

Are you asking me if I've had sex with another man?

Yes, that's right, have you ever had sexual intercourse with another man?

Can you rephrase that?

With a partner who is also male.

Oooo, ask me again.

Have you had a sexual partner who is a man?

Oh, yeah. You ask that just right. Do it again.

Have you had sexual activity with a partner who is male.

Yes, sex. Ask me again. With a man. Keep asking. Oh, yes, ask me, ask me again!

Yes, sex. With a man. Have you had a sex partner who is a man.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 04:46 am (UTC)
I think it's much better to ask about "men who have sex with men" as opposed to whether they identify as gay because the two are not synonymous and the risk is in sexual activity, not sexual identity.

I do not identify as gay or bisexual but I've had sex with other women. I've done it in the context of group sex and it was not unpleasant but I'm not in any way driven to seek it out. If someone asked me my sexual orientation I would say "heterosexual" but if they asked if I've ever had sex with women I would say "yes."
Jun. 25th, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)
I agree that the risk is in sexual activity. But it seems to me that being sodomised by a man carries the same risks whether you personally are male or female. Sure, if you're female you might spread whatever you caught less (depending on what it is), but for getting it, it's the same, so as far as testing is concerned, they're asking the wrong questions.
Also, oral sex is sex as well but doesn't carry the same risks (and for STDs that are transmitted that way, they're not transmitted less when you give oral sex to a female, either).

I'm female, and I've never, ever been asked if I've had anal sex performed on me, be it for STD testing or donating blood (which I did before I was sexually active). It seems to me that a female who has anal sex performed on her unprotected by a variety of (male) partners is more at risk than a guy who got a blowjob from a male once. I definitely think they're asking the wrong questions.
Jun. 28th, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
Good point. Not only should they focus on activity rather than orientation, but they should focus on more specific activities that are actually statistically riskier.
Jun. 20th, 2012 02:32 am (UTC)
I just read this out loud to my daughter and we're now both cracking up :D
Jun. 20th, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)

that bothers me. the receptionist had no right asking those questions. leave that information to the doctors and health professionals. all she needs to do is make your appointment.
Jun. 20th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
Possibility exists that she's a doctor's assistant in some way. Smaller medical offices often don't have a receptionist. Just one of the nurses/dr assistants answer phones in between other stuff. Also, I think they want to ask those questions multiple times, like the drug ones, so they (theoretically) increase their chances of getting an accurate answer. The government considers people who have male-on-male sex a 'high risk group'. She probably wanted to know if she should check the box that said sent this one to the WHO for sampling, or something.

Jun. 20th, 2012 07:29 pm (UTC)

yes, you may be right. i'm sorry if my comment came off as snotty and close-minded. i had the impression she was just a receptionist. i get the whole high risk case, but if i don't know, i feel like it could had be handled more sensitive.
Jun. 20th, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
Oh no, not at all. I was just suggesting. I agree with you entirely. But...I think in the US at least, even if she is 'just' a receptionist, she's helping the doctor do his job, in that case. By the definition of the AMA and state board/laws/etc. It is crappy and needs to be handled much, much better. And with less homophobia. Like...difference between 'have you had a non-monogamous sexual relationship with another man in the last 5 years?' or something. Gay==slut is a weird mental leap, but it is the...legally mandated one, in this case. We need to fix that. Which is what I think you sorta meant.:)

Jun. 20th, 2012 08:45 pm (UTC)

yes, totally!! thanks for understanding exactly what i meant :) i agree with you, too. there's a lot of things the states need to work on changing. i wish it didn't have to take so long for things to change, but it's an unfortunate reality in our history.
Jun. 21st, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
It's possible that there are different funding assistance programs available for various demographics, or the type of appointment (duration, staff, treatment room type) may vary based on the patient's needs.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 12:37 am (UTC)

thank you for pointing that out. yes, i do realize this now. i comment out of anger instead of looking at the facts. i'm sorry if my comment offended you or any of you who read my comment. i just didn't like the poking for information the person in question obviously was uncomfortable and i feel like it should had handled it better and kinder.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 12:52 am (UTC)
Wow...just wow. I'm kind of sad for the person on the other line, if that was the case.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 04:41 am (UTC)
I'm wondering if "have sex with another man" is really the best way to describe this.

A lot of people, sadly, define "sex" and "sexual intercourse" as penis-in-vagina. By that definition, it's impossible for two men to "have sex." Also, in terms of disease risk, there is a difference between different sexual activities. It might have been helpful for the receptionist to say something more specific, like, "Have you ever given or received oral or anal penetration with another man?" That's a lot easier to answer than "have sex."

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )