How to Do It

My Husband Just Tested Positive for an STD

We’ve been in a monogamous marriage for two years. Is it possible he was infected before?

A woman holds a piece of paper and opens her mouth wide. Neon medical vials float around in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I just celebrated our second anniversary. He also just tested positive for gonorrhea and informed me of this after secretly getting his results and treatment yesterday. He has received his injection and antibiotic, and I will be getting tested this afternoon. Prior to our wedding, we were together off and on for two years. During one of our Ross-and-Rachel-on-a-break times, I contracted chlamydia and advised him to get tested. He did and tested negative for STDs. At the time, I was under the impression that STD testing would test for all STDs, but now I am wondering if he would have just been tested for chlamydia? The other question would be is it possible to almost three years ago to test negative for gonorrhea and then develop symptoms and test positive three years later? I would also be curious if it is possible to contract this STD without having sex with an infected person, because we have not had relations in quite a few months, so I don’t think it came from me.

—Suspicious Timing

Dear Suspicious Timing,

In the asking of your question(s), you have studiously avoided contemplating whether this infection is a new one contracted through sexual contact, which would further imply that your husband cheated on you. That seems rather optimistic, and I’m sorry to say that it’s not looking so good for you.

“My alarm says this is a more recent infection,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis when I reached him by phone to discuss your question. Daskalakis is the deputy commissioner of disease control for the Department of Health in New York City. He’s also a practicing infectious disease doctor with lots of clinical STD experience. “I can’t even imagine the order of magnitude of how much gonorrhea I’ve treated,” he said.

None of your hypotheses are likely, according to my conversation with Daskalakis. He told me that by far the most common test for chlamydia, the nucleic acid test, includes testing for gonorrhea by design. Further, he’s never heard of asymptomatic gonorrhea lying dormant for years and then turning symptomatic. It’s understood that when gonorrhea is untreated, it either goes away after a period of time or progresses to more serious issues like disseminated gonorrhea (for which joint pain and skin lesions are symptoms) or pelvic inflammatory disease, which can interfere with fertility and comes with its own painful symptoms. There’s no strong data on the ratio of benign, temporary gonorrhea to gonorrhea that leads to complications (it’s pretty hard to count cases of gonorrhea that people never knew they had), but at least some cases just leave the body over time without treatment, even. Daskalakis has heard of asymptomatic gonorrhea sticking around for months but not years. And you get it from sex; that’s why it’s an STD. “I think that, ‘I sat on a gonorrhea toilet seat,’ is not really a way of getting it,” explained Daskalakis. Note that it can be passed via sex toys, so strict genital-orifice penetration need not take place for gonorrhea to be contracted. But in all likelihood, your supposedly monogamous husband would have to have done something in the realm of sex with someone else in order to contract gonorrhea.

Everything you suspect the gonorrhea to be doing here runs counter to what we understand about gonorrhea. The most likely scenario is that your husband contracted gonorrhea in the time since you’ve been married through a partner that is not you. Since you wouldn’t have written in asking this question if he said, “I have gonorrhea … because I cheated,” and because it does in fact seem likely that he has gonorrhea because he cheated, I’m stunned by his audacity. He’s been caught, there’s actual medical documentation telling him he’s caught, and he’s over there shrugging his shoulders, allowing you to wrack your brain for what this all could mean. That strikes me as especially inhumane, not to mention lazy (he’s barely committed to his own lie!). No offense, I know he’s your husband, but I’m really not into this guy.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a straight man in his 30s who likes being dominant in bed. I’m fortunate to have a partner who enjoys a submissive role. We’re in a long-distance relationship, though, and we’re often apart. When I’m not with her, I find myself gravitating toward pornography that is degrading toward women. I’m a feminist—and proud about it—but when I want to get myself off, I like dark fantasies online. Nothing too dark, but I like porn and stories that involve nonconsent, domination, etc. I feel like I have some responsibility to try to work away from this preference … but I also feel like, shit, I like what I like. I just feel like my politics don’t match up with my desires. I want to be an equal partner to my partner, but my fantasies go awry. Do you have any read on this? Is this something I need to examine, or can I let my responsible freak flag fly?

—Bad Feminist?

Dear Bad Feminist,

OK, so, I was very ready to work with you here. Generally, in these parts, we take the position that your fantasy life and reality life are two separate entities. (Stoya just answered a similar question last month, in fact.) An interest in extreme porn could stop and end there.

But here’s why I’m not going to hold your hand and walk you through: You say that you enjoy “porn and stories that involve nonconsent, domination, etc.” The domination stuff aside (I’m not here to kink shame, and BDSM should be wholly consensual), I’d like to focus on the nonconsent material. While I could assume your reference to it refers to depictions of nonconsent, that’s not exactly how you phrase it, and so a response denying you the benefit of the doubt (because stakes are high) is in order: If you are watching actual rape, then you’re helping maintain a market for rape, and you’re participating in rape. So stop with the rape.

Even if that’s not the case, yes, I think you should examine this. If your fantasies/ethical and nonillegal porn viewing are entirely cathartic with no real-life manifestations, great. But as someone who also considers himself a feminist and doesn’t get off watching women be demeaned, my high horse compels me to implore you to try harder.

Dear How to Do It,

I am a single mom by choice—I had my daughter with donor sperm—so no partner in this equation. I was in the Army for eight years, capping the last three of them off with some questionable romantic choices. The second to last guy I “dated” (let’s use the term loosely here) for around a year. It ended with him holding a gun to my head and threatening to kill me. I was so tired of his bullshit and mine, I said, “Well if you are going to do it, do it. Otherwise it’s late and I have to work in the morning.” He left, I locked every door I had and then changed the locks. I told no one, for several reasons. One, there were other circumstances about this that I worried I would end up in trouble (he was military also), and two, I always thought of myself as a “tough alpha female.” I followed up that disaster with a younger guy, distance involved, that eventually fell apart for those reasons, because of another girl.

I have been single since. That was more than five years ago. I haven’t had sex since then, and I used to love it. I am tired of being alone, but I’m terrified of dating. I don’t want men around my daughter—that’s another story, but suffice it to say that in my work I see the results of a lot of abuse—and the one time I tried a dating site, pre-baby, I literally felt like I was going to throw up and had to delete my profile. My therapist told me it was “OK to be single.” I know that. I’m not sure if I just want someone around to talk to besides my mom or to take out the trash. I’m not sure if I’m just so messed up in the head that I am going to be single forever or if it’s by choice. I started crying when I masturbated the other day, out of fear of this being it for the rest of my life (again, I’m in my 40s!). I’m not sure where to go from here. I want my daughter to have a “normal” view of men, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got a bananas outlook. I don’t want to pass that on. I want to be able to TRY a date without feeling like I am gearing up for combat. What the heck do I do?

—Sleeping With the Enemy

Dear Sleeping With the Enemy,

You don’t seem messed up in the head to me. Your reaction is emotionally justified, and more than that, it’s wholly logical. You’ve had some objectively terrible experiences with men—abuse, infidelity—and in many cases such things result in trauma. It makes sense, then, that you’d do everything you could to ensure situations like these never happen again—for your sake, and your daughter’s.

Another hand dealt could have yielded another outlook. And that means reinvesting hope is an option, should you be interested in playing another hand. There are good people out there and meeting them often just comes down to luck. But in order to experience luck, you must make yourself available to it. I think it’s also important to recognize that claiming your situation is entirely a matter of choice is not accurate—rather, in the face of forces beyond your control, you have responded in the best way that you can. Life is the combination of what is done to you and what you do.

After reading what you wrote, I’m curious about something you gloss over: “The one time I tried a dating site, pre-baby, I literally felt like I was going to throw up and had to delete my profile.” Context suggests that this was a manifestation of trauma, but while I’m here assuming, it’s up to you to make sure you understand exactly where that reaction is coming from. Doing so may crack the code, or at least allow you to preemptively survey what opening up might entail, in terms of internal processes.

As for your daughter, did you ever have a father-figure plan in place? Do you have a father, brothers, male friends? They could all help shape her worldview. And look, plenty of people grow up without fathers and lead happy, productive lives. The most pressing issue is that you take care of yourself in this specific department—if you don’t, you won’t be able to take care of her, anyway. It’s like what they say before planes take off: You must put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to assist others.

Don’t give up, but don’t push yourself into territory that you’re not ready for and that will make you chronically uncomfortable. It seems to me that one internal struggle of yours is between expectations of who you should be versus a reckoning with who you are. I hope that a bit more self-acceptance will alleviate some of your anxiety.

Dear How to Do It,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for two years, and we were best friends for four years before that. Until recently, I’ve wanted nobody but him, despite the fact that I’m his only sexual experience. (Yep. I took his virginity. I’m also his first girlfriend.) The first time(s) we had sex were very fun—he had no idea what to do. We had sex twice that day. Now he still doesn’t know what to do, and he’s afraid of intimacy. He doesn’t want to make love, he wants to screw. I like to screw, but I want more from him. In other parts of the relationship, he is severely lacking. He doesn’t take initiative when I’m struggling. At the grocery store, I’ll rush to place bags in the cart, get my wallet together, and place my receipt somewhere safe, and he just stands and watches, or he will simply be on his phone. The other day, we were getting into two separate cars. I was attempting to unlock my car with two wine bottles in my hands. The ground is wet; my hands are cold. Nothing.

This frustration has risen as we’ve spent a lot of time with his hunky friend. He’s experienced in the bedroom and he’s attractive. On top of that, he’s such a cool person. Whenever we all hang out together, all I can think about is getting with that guy. My boyfriend has noticed, and says to me I’d be better off with somebody like his friend. What would you do here?

—Left Holding the Bag

Dear Left Holding the Bag,

Since you’re asking what I would do, I’ll tell you what I would do: I’d drop that zero and get with the hero. I love a hunk. The few nice things you do have to say about your boyfriend reside in the past. You’ve given me nothing in his favor to work with. The supermarket/parking lot behaviors you describe could be matters of flagrant inconsideration, male thick-headedness, or a profound lack of awareness. You could try to teach/change him in this area, as well as the sex, but breaking up would be easier. Just do that. He already suggested he’d be OK with it, anyway.

—Rich

More How to Do It

After 26 years my wife kicked me out. She gave me many reasons, sex being one of them. Her biggest complaint: My penis is much too long and thick. It takes me over two hours to reach climax, and I usually want it again right after. She used to tell me I should be a porn star, but she doesn’t seem to like my size and stamina anymore. Here’s my problem: I’ve been madly in love with her for over 26 years. When I fantasize, it’s about her. If I have a sexual dream, it’s always about her. I’m only sexually attracted to her. I try to incorporate other women into my fantasies, but my mind switches the images into my wife. She’s not even my wife anymore; I can’t quit calling her that. What should I do?