They Do Exist.

Dealing with STDs in Marriage

Editor’s Note: Today’s story is SO bravely shared by Emily Sledge. She tweets at @JustSledgified and if you’d like to email her, please contact lauren[at]goodwomenproject.com for her information. Pay close attention to the information she gives about HPV. You may need to get tested and have no idea. I know I didn’t. – Lauren

No one really knows what they might do if someone were holding a gun to their head. Plead with the shooter, plead with God, blame God, blubber, sweat, sob… I’ve always hoped that I would be totally calm, at peace, and unwavering in my faith in God. With all the shootings the past month, I’ve brooded over how I would actually respond. A few weeks ago, I dreamed that it happened.

* * *

I was in a crowded, dark room, and the gunman was pacing in front of us, deliberating on who his victim would be. Suddenly, he stopped right in front of me and said, “You.” My heart was pounding as I moved slowly toward him. He grabbed my arm and yanked me around to face the crowd. Then he whispered in my ear, threatening me, giving me an ultimatum. I took a deep breath, smiled gently, and said, “God, I trust you.” A wave of exhilarating joy washed over me as I thought, my faith is real! Nothing will shake me!

Photo by Shelby Savage / / Design by Lauren Dubinsky

The dream cut off when I woke up the next morning, and I instantly forgot the scene just playing in my head. I got up and went about my morning, thinking and feeling nothing unusual. A friend came over for breakfast, and we chatted about life. Everything was happy and as it should be when the sound of my phone echoed through the room. As I talked to the person on the other line, my friend tried not to invade my privacy but noticed as tears instantly welled up and began to spill over. My voice was very matter-of-fact and composed, contradicting the pain and fear on my face as I said “OK” a lot and thanked the woman for her call.

“What’s wrong?” my friend asked as I laid down the phone and wept.

I’ll try to explain a bit of the back-story, though it’s hard to know where to begin. It feels like my whole life has built up to this moment. I believed at an early age what Christ had done for me on the cross in paying for everything I’d ever done and will ever do. I went to church, sang all the songs, lead Bible studies, attended every possible mission trip, and God was real to me – but very much in a box where I had no intimacy with Him.

When I got to college, my cognitive faith did little to cushion the transition, and the depression which crept in my senior year in high school took over my world in full force. I quickly found a church and desperately tried to find God in my pain, emptiness, and self-hate. I begged Him to take away the chasm in my soul, but heard no answer. I began to question His promises, His goodness and love, His very existence. Was my faith even real? Was I believing a lie?

* * *

He finally broke through my walls of fear, sorrow, and defeat one night at the Passion Conference my sophomore year in college. He told me simply that He was mine and I was His, and He loved me more deeply than I could imagine. He also gave me the simplest and most powerful gift: hope. He helped me believe He hadn’t abandoned me, and that I wasn’t going to stay stuck forever, which was my greatest fear.

Over the next four years, my ravaged trust in my Savior slowly healed and began to grow again, and I finally discovered what trusting God truly felt like. He showed me later that while seeing my suffering was painful for Him, too, heartache was the only thing that would strip me down and bring me back to ground zero. From there, He and I could explore the depths of my soul, bringing healing and freedom where there once were chains. He gently and patiently rebuilt my faith entirely anew without the legalism which once stood in the way of a relationship with Him.

But still I wondered… Nothing horrific has ever happened to me, so what would I do if it did?

My mom had a heart attack when I was little and my dad had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung). Both brushed hands with death – but both survived. I’ve also lost two extended family members to cancer, but no immediate family. So I just couldn’t be sure. If I were to lose my health, a parent, a sibling, my husband…? Would my faith survive such a beating? I’ve always hoped and prayed so. But you never know until you get there, and you’re faced with that much fear and grief.

* * *

A few days before that phone call, I had gone to the gynecologist for my yearly check-up. I let her know my husband was my first, but he had been sexually active before our relationship. She performed the normal tests, and told me she would call with the results in the next week or two. I left, and it barely crossed my mind again over the next week and a half.

When she called Friday morning, she went straight to the point. My results had been abnormal, and confirmed that I have human papillomavirus (HPV).

Through a haze of fear and shock, I heard her explain how the immune system fights HPV like any other virus, and destroys it in about two years for most healthy people. But occasionally, it can turn into cancer for both men and women. There is no treatment for the virus, only the reactions it causes. She assured me it wouldn’t be dangerous since we caught it early and could monitor everything carefully.

I had known for a long time that getting HPV was a possibility, as 50% of sexually active Americans have it. Ben (my husband) had gotten tested for everything, but there is no test for HPV for men. I was really anxious when he laid out the possibility, but my worries waned soon after marriage. Now, all of a sudden, I had to face the reality: my husband and I have an STD.

As I cried on the phone, I listened to what she was saying, trying to process everything, trying not to break down completely. The fear and sorrow pressed down like an avalanche on my heart, and I felt I could barely breathe. The conversation didn’t seem real. I realize that having a gun to your head can be more life threatening, but the intensity of the emotional trauma can seem just as crushing. My life, my health, my marriage as I knew it was at risk in a split second, and I had no idea what came next.

Suddenly, something deep within my soul silently cried out, “God I TRUST you! No matter what happens, no matter where this leads, I trust you, I trust you, I trust you!!” Instantly Jesus reminded me of my dream from the night before, where I had declared the very same words. Peace slowly trickled in through the shock as He reassured me that even with the proverbial gun to my head, my faith would not give out, and He would not let go.

I don’t have to be afraid. I needn’t fear the collapse of my world! Come what may, HE would be my Fortress and my Deliverer.

Over the next few days, I was attacked by fear, shame, anger, resentment, and grief by turns.

With each jab at my faith and marriage, I resisted. Hope surged through me as my God and I fought in the spiritual war waging for my soul. Ben and I prayed often and earnestly, not allowing lies to gain any ground in our hearts. Fear hits us most often, causing us to dwell on the terrifying possibilities. Anything could happen, or nothing. We might not even see a single symptom our entire lives. It’s just the “what if” dangling before our eyes that we must face and defeat.

I admit, we don’t have a debilitating disease at this point. There are FAR worse things I could have heard on that phone call. But I’m not afraid anymore. I do not doubt that God will bring me through to the other side, even when I fail and fall, even if my health or my husband is taken from me. I have a hope that is secure, which may flicker in the storm but will never go out. Psalms 62:2 is my mantra – God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Oh, and for anyone wondering why I would share such a private, vulnerable, and culturally “shameful” story? This is for anyone else going through something similar or worse.

No one ever talks about STD’s in the Christian world, so I want you to know: You’re not alone. You aren’t dirty, worthless, or tainted.

You aren’t damaged goods. Your purity has not been lost. You don’t have to be afraid or ashamed. You don’t have to hide what you’re going through. We are clean, forgiven, and loved because of what Christ did on the cross. He took that shame, and we no longer bear it! “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus!!” (Romans 8:1). Any shame that others see in it is not our reality. Any shame found in it is dead and removed from us.

God is still good, even when our circumstances are horrible. He still loves us so deeply and desperately, even when we run straight to sin and fall flat on our faces. Anything less than this is a lie, and that’s the truth.

And friend, He will never let go. Even, no especially, when the gun is at your head.

NOTE: If you have not been tested for HPV, please do so if you are able. Even if you’ve only had oral sex! Most local clinics offer testing for free or very cheap if you do not have health insurance. There are vaccinations available to prevent HPV; ask your doctor to tell you more about your options so that you are informed! There are no HPV tests for men, as the woman in a dating or married relationship, it’s important that you get tested.


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38 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your story- I don't think I've ever heard Christians talk about STDs (except as a reason to fear sex, of course).

    August 27, 2012 at 10:31 am

  2. Tiffany

    Thank you SO much for sharing your story. I wish more Christians would be open to talking about it, because the reality is that we shouldn't be afraid to discuss STDs with our future spouses. My husband I had some very uncomfortable conversations and he went to get tested before we were married (and had sex). I also got the HPV vaccine just in case. Sometimes I feel like the church is so afraid of this conversation that women and men don't even know all their options before getting married.

    August 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm

  3. mackneel

    Thanks for sharing :) it is good to know you are not alone. I went through a very similar thing and Satan definitely tries to use it to hurt me even still but I am so thankful for the grace of Jesus and redemption he has given us freely. Thank you.

    August 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm

  4. Rebecca

    Your story is beautiful. I'm sitting in a library on campus reading it and tears are literally running down my cheeks. You are right. God is always good, even when we are far from it and he already died to redeem that.

    August 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm

  5. bnj

    Thank you for sharing your story because it is also mine. I learned about my HPV the same way a few years after getting married. I was a virgin when I got married but my husband wasn't. He had been sexually active before becoming a Christian. Before we were married we had an honest (and difficult) discussion about whether he had any STDs. He said he had been tested for everything numerous times over the preceeding years with negative results every time. Neither of us knew that standard STD tests for men didn't test for HPV so we had no idea it was even possible for him to have it and not know. I dealt with all the emotions you did. Sadly, I even accused my husband of being unfaithful during our marriage because I didn't understand the latency period the disease can have. As upset as I was about the whole thing, my wonderful husband suffered a lot with guilt.

    August 27, 2012 at 3:21 pm

  6. iamspokenword

    Thank you for sharing this! My husband and I have a very similar story, and God is faithful and will heal all wounds; physical and otherwise. God bless!

    August 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm

  7. Sarah

    When I was a youth leader one of my youth called me late one night crying because she had contracted herpes and was in desperate need of medical attention. Her family shamefully did not want anything to do with helping her, so myself and another female youth leader were the ones to talk to her about the disease, take her to a clinic to see and doctor and get the medicine she needs, and pray for her. I am sorry that she now has to live with this disease, it's terrible, but I am glad I got the opportunity to love on her – and give her GRACE , the same grace the Christ would have shown. And the same grace that the church should extend in all circumstances, especially in conversations about STDs. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story.

    August 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm

  8. this is awesome. thank you for sharing and reminding us all that God is always good. I, too found out I had HPV… but sadly, I didn't know which guy, because there were too many … Shame on top of Shame… the gynecologist was very cold, unemotional…. I'll never forget what she said as she shook her head and sighed over 15 years ago- "So common these days… so common" She said it with condemnation. She shook her head and slapped a label all over me with her eyes that read "statistic". Shame came and took years and years… even now I am 35, but so glad I found Lauren somehow and so glad I found goodwomenproject.com because I needed to hear true redemptive stories and be reminded that I am His.

    August 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm

  9. R.O.

    This story is tragic. Not because the writer had to deal with an incredibly common STD, but because she was so crushed by it. "Fear, shame, anger, resentment, and grief" over HPV? A gun to her head?? I take her feelings at face value, and it was brave to share them here, but there's something very sad about a culture that produces this kind of reaction to the mildest possible consequence of the kind of normal, healthy adulthood her husband was living before they met. There's so much emotional suffering going on here that just doesn't need to exist. (My story: I found out I had HPV about six years ago; I was alarmed until I did a little research, and I continue to be tested for it semi-regularly. I don't think my husband and I have spent more than 45 combined minutes thinking about it in the last five years.)

    August 27, 2012 at 8:48 pm

  10. Clar

    I am so glad you shared this story, like many have already stated it would be wonderful for the Christian community to have open communication regarding 'Sexually Transmitted Infections' -STI's. Within the last two years Community Health has changed the name from STD's to STI because some of them can be cured, others are uncurable and others like HPV the immune system will fight off within 2 years. When I was twenty- one I had premarital sex with a christian guy and two years later I got the news that I had HPV. It was devastating! I spent most of my twenties beating myself up, like many I wanted to save sex until marriage and getting the disease seemed to be a punishment from God for having premarital sex. I am still single and although the type of HPV I had was not cancer causing, as only 4 out of the 100 types are actually documented as cancerous. It turns out one can get HPV from touching an affected surface or from sharing towels etc. as it is spread through skin to skin contact much like the virus for planter warts and NO condoms do not protect against contracting HPV as they do with other STI's. I went through the process of wart removal – which uses liquid Nitrogen to freeze them off. (painful) I am so thankful I was able to find a doctor who was understanding, cheerful and positive about the issue, 'You got a lesser version of the virus and now your immune system will recognize it and deal with it effectively as though you had the vaccine and when you get married you will both swap the type of HPV you have and be good to go.' Although this was said, it didn't stop the mental mutilation and turmoil in my mind. I have taught Reproductive lecture to Undergrads in a University setting and know how absolutely uncomfortable this topic can be yet the world unfortunately deals with it a lot better than the Christian Community. I wish, I knew the information, I am now teaching to my students when I was their age which wasn't shared with me as a home schooled girl living in a very conservative family. The information would have helped me make more informed choices and would have allowed me to forgive myself a little easier if forgiveness and grace was actually taught to me. The hard part for me was the process of learn to forgive myself, which has proved to be even harder for me. A daily struggle! I know God has forgiven me yet the lesson from all of this was for me to learn to forgive myself. I sincerely hope sharing this helps someone else.

    August 27, 2012 at 11:28 pm

  11. Charlie

    Okay, well I have a few thoughts because I recently talked to my doctor about all of these issues…..
    First, 8 out of 10 women get HPV at some point in their lives.
    Second, it's not your fault and you stating that you felt "fear, shame, anger, resentment, and grief" is slightly frustrating considering you have an STI that will in fact go away – what about the women who are plagued with their STD's and health problems that wont. I have to admit that I think that most of the Christian world would find some shame in that, despite your statement that it doesn't mean someone is tainted – try actually living that out, because I don't know a single Christian who wouldn't judge someone for having an incurable STD.
    Third, there are HPV tests for men, but they are not routinely practiced because men don't usually feel or get any effects from HPV. The reality of the situation is that if a man is going to get tested for HPV the doctor has to put a stick up his penis. Ya, most men opt out and most doctors don't even suggest that they get tested. Only men who specifically request that they be tested or have some kind of health problem that causes a weak immune system are tested.

    August 28, 2012 at 3:05 am

  12. I love when Christians talk about things other Christians do not. Thank you for your courage to share! It matters, it really matters.

    August 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm

  13. Anon

    thank you for writing this. I'm a virgin, and my whole life i always thought i'd marry a virgin and "tada! no worries!" but turns out i fell in love with a guy who has a wildly sexually active past. I don't know if he's "the one" or not, but even if he isn't, thank you for writing this and opening my eyes to the possibilities of what could happen. seriously, thank you.

    August 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm

  14. anon

    I myself have had to deal with a different STI but just as devastating of a reaction… in my senior year of college I took out my insecurities and damage from an emotionally abusive relationship with my body… feeling the power of lust and having sex with who I wanted was such a rush that I didn't think too hard about being safe… I was gossiped about, publicly shamed, and of course, had to deal with the subtle shaming of the school gynecologist ("so HOW MANY men have you slept with??" Does it matter? NO! Obviously I'm not a virgin!!)… after treatment and test after test after test (and all the horrid anxiety involved) I came to the realization that I couldn't do it anymore… I had to give everything up to God… I had hit rock bottom and there was no one left to turn to who wouldn't judge me, who would accept me despite all my filthiness and sin and insecurity and stupidity… He was with me every moment of every day from that night on… I told Him that I would dive into my community work, my school, to give back (I was teaching ESL at the time), and to stop treating my body like a sewer or a manipulative tool… 2 weeks later I met the most wonderful God-loving man who is my current boyfriend, who supports me in my growing faith, urges me to be a better me, and teaches me how to value myself and to push myself in my emotional strength. I fully believe that he was a gift from God that just keeps giving. But honestly, there is SO MUCH Condemnation over STI's… nobody shames you over getting the flu… some STI's are almost like that. Healthcare providers, peers, parents, and friends can be so awful to deal with. Just know that you are not the only one that deals with this… even if you've been in committed relationships before, it can happen whether you were the one sleeping around or somebody else was who has turned themselves around. God sees us for who we are and who we have the ability to become… He cries for us when we make mistakes and give ourselves unsafely and recklessly… but that does NOT mean that you are less of who you were and he loves you any less after STI/STD's.

    August 28, 2012 at 8:49 pm

  15. Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I know it wasn't easy to lay yourself out there raw and open to ridicule, but i have absolutely NOTHING but admiration and joy towards you.
    God is using you & your husband to break through walls of so many women's (and mens) hearts. Praise God that He doesn't leave us, or view us as dirty…and Praise God that we have an atoning sacrifice for our failures.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm

  16. Madalynn

    Thank you for this. I have also gotten tested and all results have come up negative. But I constantly feel shame about the topic because I wonder how I would feel about myself if any of the tests would have been positive. It's so comforting to hear you say that no matter what our past looks like and no matter what the consequences are, God doesn't love us any less.

    September 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm

  17. Lisa

    Thank you so much. Today I went to get an STD check and blood test to make sure I don't have anything that I need to deal with or could pass onto my future husband. This is after experiences of sexual abuse. All day I have been feeling really emotional and alone in this. It was a big deal to get tested in order to move on but it is really hard with little support from other Christians. This article really helped! Thank you

    September 12, 2012 at 2:16 am

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this. My heart was saddened for you until the last two paragraphs, but I LOVE your realization of purity (for us all). I ended up with a smile and an "AMEN!"

    I have a dear male friend who found out his (unfaithful) wife may have passed a similar STI onto him- he was devastated. Felt like his life was ruined. It's a shame that a stereotype has shamed so many people, when clearly there are many different ways such a thing can occur.

    September 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm

  19. DMA

    Haven't been on this site in forever, I thought it was funny how this was the FIRST story that popped up on the screen! I've been thinking about it and thinking about it for months. No one ever talks about these things! I wish I was informed about these things! I too have an STD (still haven't been tested for it – no health insurance – but I've had the symptoms for about a year now) from premarital sex a year and a half ago. He was my first and he's been with countless other women before me. I'm not married or planning to be, I'm not going to pass what I have around to another person.

    September 14, 2012 at 10:21 pm

  20. Rene

    It’s HPV! For the love…as another commenter said
    above, this response to something so mundane is pretty tragic. This is like finding out you’re lactose intolerant. 8 out of 10 women will get it, and not only through intercourse. Vaccinate your kids or yourself and move on.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:37 am

  21. kate

    I, too, had the reaction that this isn't a really big deal, but then I think about my own struggle with cold sores. Cold sores is just a nice name for herpes. 80% of American adults have herpes, but that doesn't make it any better. Some people couldn't care less about it, as long as I'm as safe as can be, some people react with horror. God is good, life is confusing.

    September 27, 2012 at 9:37 am

  22. Me

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I found out about 3 months ago that I have HPV after a routine PAP, and was devastated. For me it brought back feelings of guilt, discust and unworth. For us I was the one who had been unfaithful while we were dating and even though we have been married for 12 years and have three awesome kids, we still struggled. I have also miscarried 3 times trying to have a third. For those people saying HPV is no big deal, for most thats true, but I was found to have the cancer causing type… 2 in office biopsys and one under anesthesia later, I am currently waiting for results. The one thing I have learned in all this is that the devil will take whatever our shame is and run with it. If this had never been an issue in our marriage, it might not be so hard. I am blessed with an amazing husband who loves me no matter what and an amazing doctor who has been an angel through the whole thing. Where there is darkness we are weak and if we let Him God will keep us safe from the Enemy! Lets break out this “Christian” belief that some things should not be talked about!

    November 26, 2012 at 1:02 am

  23. Sherrycole11

    Am most grateful to a spelll lady who has given me a new outlook with my relationship. I have been experiencing difficulty in my relationhip for about 6months now, but just last week here i heard about this spell lady who i contacted online at priestessifaa@yahoo.com, she has been wonderful and kind with all her honest spell. Priestess Ifaa, My lover has totally.YOU should call her and see for yourself, thank you so much for being there for me, and clearing the air for be the most wonderful and dream man i ever want to be with now, he has totally changed for the best ever since the spell lady did cast the spell for me to make my lover stop cheating and misbehaving. I would urge you never to give up on the one you love for there are some real spell people who can restore your relationship, the email to meet this lady just as i did is priestessifaa@yahoo.com, i must confess that she is incredibly powerful.

    December 2, 2012 at 2:11 am

  24. Amanda

    I am so grateful that you told your story. After my boyfriend told me he had previously been sexually active and that he had been tested for STDs, he sent me a link explaining that there was no test for HPV. I didn’t know what to do with that. I’ve never been with anyone and had never really considered what it would mean to marry a man with this possibility. Suddenly I find myself on the outskirts of what “acceptable” to ask in Christian circles. By asking the questions I could sense shame, even though I had done nothing to elicit that feeling. I searched for resources from a Christian perspective and even emailed some sites asking them to cover this. There is a need for openness on this subject. An honest exploration with a focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

    January 10, 2013 at 12:34 pm

  25. NoName

    Thank you for sharing your story with such honesty. Someone close to me developed cancer–and died, because she was never treated–as the result of HPV. In her case, she got it because her husband had multiple extramarital affairs. It is so important that we talk about this stuff! It's really important that it not be a taboo subject. If she had known that this was a possibility, or that she could get sicker, she might have taken the time to be tested. Since talking about it can lead to so much shame, there wasn't really anyone to whom she could go for help or advice. I'm glad there are brave people out there willing to open this conversation.

    January 12, 2013 at 10:07 pm

  26. Abb

    Thanks for your story…I have been a follower of God for majority of my young life but yesterday I was diagnosed with HPV. This man had taken advantage of me and now I have to reap the consequences. I am really scared but this has brought me hope. My greatest wish is to be married with children and to have that jeopardized is truly heart breaking.. Thanks for your wisdom

    August 28, 2013 at 10:49 am

  27. Brittany

    God has used this story in so many ways. I just found out yesterday that I have HPV from my husband. Same exact situation, where he is my first but he had other partners before he became a Christian. I felt impure and like damaged goods and like I have done something wrong. It was so refreshing to read this and be reminded that that is a LIE! I adore my husband and I am praying that I can support him during this difficult time, as he is dealing with lots of guilt. I trust God and am continuing to seek Him and pray against thoughts from the enemy that are after my marriage. Thank you so much for your post. Its so nice to know I’m not the only one.

    October 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm

  28. Sophie

    Thank you so much for sharing. Your story is a huge encouragement to others who struggle with that problem. I have recently got married and even though my husband and I had not had any other sexual partners other than each other, I got diagnosed with an STI (Trichomonas vaginalis) as well as a bunch of other infections of the female parts of the body plus fungus, yeast and another worm. When I heard all that during one appointment with my doctor, I thought 'Oh God, I love You. I will still glorify You, I still trust You'. And felt that warm feeling of peace 'that surpasses all understanding'. However,I spent the last couple of days wrestling with guilt, anger, and sadness. So reading your story was a really empowering experience and made me want to turn back to God for help and support in this time. I thank Jesus for brave Christians that are willing to share their stories online! Because I don't think I would hear such words of encouragement from my Christian community at home… It *is* sad that we don't feel comfortable sharing these things with our brothers and sisters in Christ BECAUSE we know we might be judged by them. I pray that this topic will cease to be tabu.
    God bless you, Sisters, and see you one day before the Throne.

    August 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm

  29. At least now there is some hope for couples dealing with Herpes. This, Dr. Christine Buehler’s Erase Herpes ebook provides us with a way to deal with this previously incurable virus at last

    October 9, 2014 at 5:48 pm

  30. You're really brave that you shared your story. Being a STD consultant I go through similar cases quite often. The first thing I recommend to my patients to get tested for STDs. There are many STD testing networks e.g http://www.stdtestingnycity.com . You can visit them for a private STD testing.

    May 15, 2015 at 3:09 pm

  31. ear

    How awful! I would have thought a skin swab or blood test!. What is the name of the test you describe?

    January 7, 2017 at 7:58 pm

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