"In the '90s, behind every dick was a sinister disease that would kill you, ruin your family, and spark an overrated musical."
Image: Mauro Gargullo / Stocksy
"Super gonorrhea" might be one of the scariest combinations of words in the English language, right up there next to "bird-eating tarantula" and "White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon."
Unfortunately, like Bannon and bird-eating spiders, it's also a reality. Last year, antibiotic-resistant strains of the STI were reported in England, Japan, and Canada. Soon after, the CDC announced the first highly-resistant case in the states. Scientific American recently warned that gonorrhea could actually become resistant to all antibiotics in the not-too-distant future, rendering it untreatable entirely—and the same thing is happening with syphilis. Yikes.
But are these superpowered strains the sexually transmitted infections people are most concerned about contracting? With a recent report from the CDC saying that STI rates reached an all-time high in 2015, we decided to ask around: Which STI are you most worried by, and why?
Roman Gonzalez, 27, Stockton, California
This may be due to my high school sexual education class, but I personally find chlamydia to be the scariest. It's very common, and most people who have it don't show any symptoms. The fact that it can lay dormant until sexually transmitted is especially scary to me. Getting tested is the only way to detect if you have it, which at the time—in high school—I had no intention of doing. (I wasn't even close to being sexually active.)
Though I've never been in contact or had any personal experience with this disease, it has always been in the back of my mind. Thankfully, it is easily cured with antibiotics, but the fact that anyone could have it and have no idea was the main source of my fear.
Noah Bogdonoff, 25, Providence, Rhode Island
As a sex educator, I feel lucky to know two things: First, that every STI can be either effectively managed or cured. And second, that fear of STIs actually makes people more likely to lie about their STI status and avoid getting tested than it does to ensure that people use condoms, take PrEP, and have healthy conversations with their partners. That doesn't mean that STIs aren't ever life-threatening or painful, but the trick is to catch them early, treat them effectively, and be honest with everyone you might have exposed.
If I had to pick a scariest STI, it would be HIV, because I grew up being told that as a gay man, I was fated to get AIDS and die. That misconception still hasn't been fully erased, and people who are HIV positive still sometimes have trouble finding romantic and sexual partners because of the stigma—even if their viral loads are undetectable (meaning that they can't transmit the disease).
Kenice Mobley, 31, New York, New York
I grew up in the '90s, where behind every dick was a sinister disease that would kill you, ruin your family, and spark an overrated musical. Like, don't get me wrong, having my genitals covered in painful sores or having my cervix morph into cancer would be terrible. Undoubtedly. But I saw Angels in America, and someone shat blood in that play. I understand that treatment has come leaps and bounds since then, but I don't have great insurance, so that's the one that haunts me.
Vivian Martinez, 31, Los Angeles, California
I have a general OCD for cleanliness I developed as a kid because I had really terrible eczema, which I still have, so honestly the little, terminal things really freak me out. Herpes definitely scares me the most, even though I know how infantile that is. Little bumps and scrapes are always a bigger deal to my dumb stupid, fragile-ass, fabergé egg skin. Kinda like cockroaches. They're easy—I can see you, then I kill you. But ants—fuck ants. They're everywhere. Ugh. I can't. Nope.
That's like herpes to me. You can't see it, and then it pops up and ruins your life for three to five fucking gargoyle weeks. I don't know what I'd do if I got it. I think I'd give up. I know that sounds dramatic, but I'm already suffering from long-term skin issues, and it's exhausting thinking about the exhaustion and anxiety it brings. I know it's nothing compared to cancer, but I think I'm just in denial that I'll ever get cancer, which is super dumb, but ignorance is bliss, maybe.
Reba Gibbs, 24, Knoxville, Tennessee
Herpes used to be a big scare for me, and I thought I had it once. I went to the doctor and everything! But the doctor just laughed and said, "See a dermatologist." It literally was just skin tags, a weird Polycystic Ovary Syndrome symptom.
That was a few years ago. Since then, I knowingly have slept with people who have told me they had herpes. The scare factor has mostly been taken away for me, and I genuinely believe STDs should be destigmatized. The one I'm most fearful of contracting is Hep C; getting that from people who have used dirty needles seems way scarier and more likely to happen to me, to be honest. I would probably be more worried about AIDS or HIV if I knew a single person with either, but I don't, and they seem to be making advancements in treating people with them.
Gabby Schulz, 44, Machias, Maine
I know HIV no longer means certain death—if you've got health insurance—but the current administration's war on healthcare, gays, education, and science makes me wonder if maybe HIV treatment is about to return to the Reagan era, which definitely has me eyeing my purity ring.
And even that's not as scary as the return of syphilis, which has recently been out-evolving antibiotics. It's kind of a mood-killer to wonder which potential night of fleeting pleasure will be the one that lets a bacterium slowly melt my face, brain, and genitals into a medieval ragout.
Christina Catherine Martinez, 32, Los Angeles, California
I fear all STDs because I've never had one, which is due in part to my gynecologist—who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ice Cube—ensuring that our visits occur with clockwork regularity and no small dash of glee. This is also due in part to condoms. You may have heard of them.
I guess I'm most scared by HPV, the gateway drug of STIs. The lack of perceivable symptoms coupled with most people's indolent attitude toward their own sexual health means it's probably just a matter of time before I do get it, and on that day I will have to look Ice Cube OB/GYN in the face and it will not be a good day.