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My Hypochondria was in Control of my Sex Life

"In all honesty, it actually started with a racist doctor."

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Written by Tara Jones.

Art by Hannah Colen.

My hypochondria is hardly constricted to concerns about sexual health; It’s everything. My head turns heartburn into the warning signs of an unavoidable heart attack. It turns coughing up a piece of food stuck in my throat into a full blown COVID19 infection. But it did begin with sex.

In all honesty, it actually started with a racist doctor. I’m sure they wouldn’t call themself a racist, that they didn’t have a swastika tattoo or own a KKK hood, but there had to be a first. The first doctor who made me feel small and unimportant as their black female patient. And after the first there would be a second and a third, and I’m sure there will be more to come.

Before every new diagnosis came the misdiagnoses, and those came after months of having my symptoms not taken seriously at all.

You see, I’m in and out of doctors offices more than other people. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of eight, and it’s felt like every year since that another illness has crept up on me, I just can’t get a break. From acid reflux that caused my organs to swell, to hepatitis C that I contracted from a piercing pagoda in New York. Before every new diagnosis came the misdiagnoses, and those came after months of having my symptoms not taken seriously at all. It didn’t take very long for me to feel like anyone in a white coat would simply not hear me.

I blame the development of my hypochondria on this pattern. It's easy to get wrapped up in concerns about your health when new illnesses and careless doctors feel like an endless cycle. Waiting for something else to be inevitably wrong with your body makes it hard to believe anybody when they say, "You're fine.”

When I say my journey with hypochondria started with sex, I mean the first time these experiences manifested into a prolonged panic was after intercourse. My freshman year of college I was working a minimum wage job, hostessing at a restaurant in New York’s financial district, on the weekends. The only thing getting me through 10 hour shifts catering to the city’s richest frat boys was flirting with a server a decade older than me. As flirtationships go, things built up until they finally climaxed (literally). We had very drunk sex in a bar bathroom. I woke up to a hangover, swelling and strange discharge. It was during my early morning pee that I made the observation that something was very wrong with my vagina. I felt the oncoming shortness of breath that I knew was an anxiety attack. I thought he wore a condom, but considering the gaps in my memory… I was convinced I had an STI.

After a long day of anxiety induced nausea and vaginal discomfort, I called my school’s health center and set up an appointment. The doctor could tell early into the appointment that this was simply a yeast infection. This should have been the end. Pick up my suppository from the pharmacy and wait a week, boom, yeast gone.

        

But it wasn't. I had yeast infections after every sexual interaction for 6 months, as it turns out I have (yet another) chronic condition. Each and every time, however, I would be convinced I had some STI. It only got worse from there. Any sore throat was an HIV symptom in my mind, every ingrown hair a herpes outbreak. By my sophomore year I wasn’t having sex at all. I was convincing myself, and all my hookups, that a makeout sesh and spending the night together was just as satisfying.

I started experiencing psychosomatic symptoms, my brain made up small bumps around my vulva that never existed.

Even that couldn’t stop the panic. I would still wake up with yeast infections and be convinced that the person who made out with me and spent the night, somehow had sex with me while I was asleep and passed on an infection. I started experiencing psychosomatic symptoms, my brain made up small bumps around my vulva that never existed. The anxiety I felt everyday was debilitating, I reached out to the mental health resources at my university and found them to be insufficient, I eventually made the choice to take a semester off from school.

That decision turned out to be just what I needed. 9 months later and here I am. I found a psychologist and have been on prescription meds for some time now, I am in the process of finding a new therapist and am in the beginning stages of reclaiming my sex life. Having a label for my mental illness has provided me with so much comfort because there are other people like me, and I know now that things can get better. I’m back in school and able to focus.

Having a label for my mental illness has provided me with so much comfort because there are other people like me, and I know now that things can get better.

I still struggle to make room for myself as someone who is sex positive, actively trying to destigmatize STIs, and someone with a mental illness I cannot fully control. But I’m getting there. As much as I may claim to have done so, fully unlearning the hysteria society teaches us to connect with STI’s is a difficult task, but we must make the conscious effort to work towards it.

These days I try to give my emotional needs surrounding sex more authority than my fears and anxiety. Meaning that, in making decisions about my sex life, I no longer allow irrational concerns to police my behavior or determine how much pleasure I can experience. I’m trying to change my internal narrative about myself. For a long time I have carried the fear that as someone who’s body feels so broken sometimes, that I am undesirable and unlovable. This is so far from true. Looking at my life right now, I am surrounded by so much unconditional love.

Being here, allowing myself to take space and tell my story, is another step in my healing process.


About the Author

Tara Jones (she/her) is a black, queer, student and sex educator based in New York. Her work focuses on how injustice manifests in sexual interactions and she uses her digital platform and written pieces to connect with her community.

Follow on IG: @tara.michaela | Follow on Twitter: @


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