I know I’m not the only one who was raised Christian and taught sex is a sin unless it’s between a married heterosexual couple. But as a woman of color, these teachings take on a different meaning. That’s because the media often portrays Latina women like me hypersexual beings who like to put out. Abstaining from sex didn’t just mean fulfilling a religious commandment; it was a way to prove not all Latinas live up to the stereotype.
Around my senior year of high school and first year of college, I noticed how some boys would openly degrade their girlfriends and talk about their “conquests.” I was confused. Weren’t the boys there too? This attitude existed even among some young men I grew up with in the church. I also struggled with guilt at having any sexual thoughts. Some pastors and youth advisors seemed so paranoid about preserving virginity that they’d caution young couples not to even hold hands, spend time alone, or hug. The obsession with purity was such that our clothing choices were criticized so they wouldn’t provoke young boys, but I rarely saw any pressure on boys and men to uphold any sense of purity.
I was lucky to have had some semblance of a sex education at school that addressed protection. Several friends openly talked about how they got birth control. I found an underground network of other young women — some who were Christian — who felt empowered to make these choices and share information in girls’ bathrooms, P.E. locker rooms, and stolen moments away from teachers, parents, and boys.
I still aspired to remain abstinent until marriage, however. But life happened, and I lost my virginity.
I knew I should get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but I kept putting it off. Years went by and I eventually moved to Buenos Aires. Attitudes about sex and dating were different there. Friends spoke about getting tested matter-of-factly in the same way they might discuss any other thing they did that day.
I found this attitude around sex and STIs challenging and refreshing. Because even in progressive circles in the United States, many of my friends still grappled with the stigma of getting tested for STIs — as if the act of getting tested itself proved they were immoral or something.
After getting in and out of a relationship, not knowing my STI status began to eat me up. There were many testing resources all over Buenos Aires — So, I decided it was time to get tested.
I was 29 years old. My faith was and still is important to me, and I still felt some shame for having sex. I had even tried to go for long periods of time without sex to “make up” for this guilt, believing I could start over and actually wait until marriage to have sex, but I needed to know how my body was doing. Suddenly, the fear of not knowing my STI status was greater than any potential judgment I could face for getting tested.
I made my appointment and prepared for the outcome. I believed any potential STI would be my fault, even though I rationally knew STIs aren’t necessarily any person’s “fault.” Even though I had friends who had worked or volunteered at Planned Parenthood, and had surrounded myself with progressive women of all backgrounds, I still couldn’t remove the mental baggage I had around sex.
I tested negative at a clinic that only tested me for HIV/AIDS. They were friendly, nonjudgmental, and professional. They advised me to go to a public hospital to get a wider panel of STI tests. So, I visited my public hospital, got a blood test and came back to get the results.
Everything was negative again and I felt relieved.
While I still struggle with unhealthy thoughts about myself and my relationship to sex, getting tested for STIs made me more confident about advocating for my sexual health.
I know in my heart that people who get STIs of any kind are regular people. No one deserves any disease or infection, but the only thing we can do is accept the reality that STIs exist and come to terms with our own internalized biases. No one should be afraid to seek medical advice or get tested just as they would for any other medical condition.
I also get that some people put off testing because it can be time-consuming, but I encourage everyone to seek STI testing at any time. We all have a responsibility to know our status and the right to be treated with respect regardless of the outcome.