Ask Dr. NerdLove: My Girlfriend’s STI Diagnosis Has Me Questioning Everything

Ask Dr. NerdLove: My Girlfriend’s STI Diagnosis Has Me Questioning Everything

Hello all you death spores on the flesh of the Internet, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the dating advice column that helps you respec for the action RPG of love. This week, we’re talking about some tough questions.

When your relationship hits a crisis point, do you trust your partner, or do you go with what your gut tells you? What about when you know you’re in a bad situation? Do you grit your teeth and bail despite the cost, or do you ride it out and hope for things to get better?

It’s time to gird your loins and insert coins. Let’s do this.

Hi Dr. NerdLove,

Something has happened that I just don’t understand. I started dating a woman who has been a really good friend of mine for years. We’ve always had great chemistry but never connected romantically because of life (work, relationships with other people, etc). Finally in our early thirties we met for drinks through mutual friends and finally hooked up. We’ve been in a excellent relationship for almost a year now.

This is where I need your help and advice. Recently, she had her IUD removed because it gave her bad cramps and stomach aches after orgasms. Standard procedure at the gynaecologist, I believe, is that they run the full gamut of pregnancy, STI, STD, and all that jazz.

When she received her results they informed her that she tested positive for chlamydia. She informed me immediately what had happened without anger and with full faith there isn’t infidelity.

I know that I never had any sexual activity with anyone besides my girlfriend since we’ve first became romantically involved. Before her I had multiple partners and had unprotected sex with two of the women on a regular basis. I’m in the military and we get mandated testing every year. In the event that they detect any STDs through blood work, we get notified immediately for medical treatment and counselling.

This is how I know I didn’t have any STDs before and throughout our relationship (or ever).

My girlfriend earlier had told me that in her twenties she had contracted chlamydia from one of her partners. Other then that she had been mostly monogamous the rest of her life and always used protection. Also, she was celibate for months before her and I had sex for the first time.

Since both of us (allegedly) did not have sexual activity outside of our relationship we came to the conclusion that it must’ve been dormant in one of us and we passed it to each other. I immediately got tested and my results came back negative. I then googled all I could about chlamydia and have come to understand that it can only be contracted through sexual activity.

At this point, if it were any one else, I’d chalk it up to my partner outright lying. However, I’ve known this woman for over eight years, trust her completely, and my gut/heart believes she hasn’t been with anyone else.

I know that due to the nature of how you contract chlamydia, all signs point to her engaging in sexual activity with someone else who has chlamydia.

I intend to continue to love this woman no matter what and before this had all intention to ask her to marry me and start a family. The problem lies that from what I understand there HAD to be sexual activity with another person outside of our relationship. I’ve communicated this to her and she responded that without a doubt she hasn’t had any sexual activity with anyone else while we’ve been together.

Is there a STD science fact or rare circumstances that am I unaware of or is the love of my life hiding a secret sexual encounter( or relationship )?

Truth Will Set Me Free

First of all, TWSMF: do yourself a favour, go to the doctor or your local Planned Parenthood and tell them you’ve had positive contact. Yes, you mention that you get annual testing as part of your service, but testing isn’t a preventative. Chlamydia is easy to treat, usually involving a single dose of antibiotics that they’ll often give to you on the spot, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Now then. This is a rough situation, TWSMF. Finding out that your partner has an STI can be an incredible shock. How long have they had it, did they contract it from you, did you contract it from them, how did they get it in the first place?

However, the shock of the news and the stigma that come with a positive diagnosis can, at times, overwhelm us and cause us to leap to conclusions that may not be accurate. It’s very easy to assume that we know the whole truth despite the fact that we’re making assumptions based on facts not in evidence.

Case in point: your girlfriend’s diagnosis and insistence that she’s been perfectly faithful to you. This, it would seem, is directly contradicted by the fact that, y’know, she has an STI. How do you square this particular circle?

Well, to start with, you calm down. Here’s one of the science facts about chlamydia: it’s known as the “silent” STI, because the vast majority of people who have it are asymptomatic. Only 10 per cent of men and anywhere between 5-30 per cent of women who have the infection ever have symptoms or any signs that would be discovered during a physical exam.

Moreover, because the incubation period of the bacteria is so poorly defined, it could be weeks to months before symptoms — if any — develop, or for the disease to be detectable.

Which means that it’s entirely possible for your girlfriend to have contracted the infection prior to your relationship. Depending on when she had positive contact, it’s also possible that it wouldn’t have shown up on any screenings before you two got together and decided to be monogamous.

And while your girlfriend may have used protection with her previous partners, it’s still possible to have contracted the infection. Ejaculation isn’t a requisite to spread the infection, so going raw to completion isn’t the only way she could’ve gotten exposed.

Condoms break, especially if they’re not applied correctly. Other times, people have had their partners remove the condom during sex, a practice known as “stealthing”. And while your girlfriend — or you, for that matter — used condoms for penetration, it’s highly doubtful that either of you use them for oral sex… and chlamydia can be transferred via oral contact.

So it’s not impossible for your girlfriend to have told you the God’s honest truth; she’s been 100 per cent faithful to you, despite having contracted an STI. It’s also possible that she’s lying to you, or had sex with someone before the two of you agreed that you were exclusive.

Which is the most likely? It’s impossible to say. That’s between you and how much you trust your girlfriend. And honestly: it’s a hard question to answer, because there’s so much stigma attached to STIs. There’re a lot of voices — in your own head, in society and even in the comments section — that will be yelling at you about it.

The loudest will, of course, be the ones screaming that “she’s obviously a cheating bitch and you need to dump her,” because there will always be folks who want to vent their hate and frustration on strangers. But there will also be that voice in your head, the one that says: “but what if she’s telling the truth?” That one can be harder to hear because, honestly, there’s a powerful cultural narrative that says “if she cheated AND YOU TAKE HER BACK then you’re a cuck and a beta and need to hand in your testicles to a real man”.

The self-inflicted “cost” of believing that voice if — and that’s a mighty big if — it turns out to be wrong can be high. But so can the cost of ending a relationship with someone you love and who loves you… regardless of what happened. You’re going to have to be the one to decide whether or not you believe her, and what you’re going to do about it.

Now, you say you intend to stay with her, no matter what. That’s admirable, and it says a lot about the strength of your relationship. I don’t believe that all infidelities are equal, or that an infidelity automatically means that the relationship has to end.

But the possibility does mean that there’s a lot for you two to process, especially if she is holding back the truth in order to save the relationship. The best thing I think the two of you can do is sit down and have an awkward conversation about just how you’re feeling, how this may have happened and what the two of you are going to do going forward.

Whether she did cheat, or this was a case of her having had positive contact beforehand, it’s important for the two of you to talk things out and get your cards out on the table. The more that you two can talk about how this makes you feel and how you can rebuild your connection, the better your relationship will be in the long term.

Good luck.

Hey there, Doc.

I’m a 28 year old, trans woman. Something that has been a big part of my life for some time, at least virtually. But came out in 2017 to family, friends, and the girlfriend I’m currently with (Although, it was to her before the others). Thankfully they’ve been supportive. Even if rough around the edges at first. I’m also super introverted. Like after a brief time of being out, I just want to return home and stay inside.

I’ve been with my girlfriend for over a year come July, living with her for a year come November. However, it feels like a half committed relationship. Mainly because (and you’ll call me an idiot for this one) she is still married to the father of her children.

The man is in the army and is stationed elsewhere, and is fully aware of me, though he doesn’t think highly of me at all. And because she wants to be poly, without my half being open. Yet she says she wouldn’t be mad if I found someone. She has gotten pissed/jealous if I ever bring someone up (Though it’s usually just some random girl I’ve talked to once).

She claims that she truly loves me and can’t wait to marry me. But has to wait till the guy returns home before she can get him divorced. But she says that, even though apparently he was here recently and nothing came of it.

The worst part about it is that even though we’re full time workers, she goes to him for money by being seductive and doing “favours” over skype. Though claiming it means nothing to her, and just wants to get money to pay our bills faster. Which still doesn’t even happen. Despite not knowing the guy, I feel bad for him. I didn’t even know she was married until after we moved in together.

The reason I mentioned the trans part earlier, was because of her being against me transitioning lately, and it’s been very damaging. She keeps telling me she wants to be a part of my transition every step of the way, but any time I’ve put forth any research and effort, I keep being met with “hold off because X/Y/Z”.

We’ve fought about how much it’s been driving me to be depressed, hurt, and more confused about things because I have to keep living my life as a lie to everyone outside my friends/family. (Where I live is not very accepting of trans people.)

I want to leave her, but we’ve got furniture bills that need to be paid off before I can even leave. She keeps being flip floppy with her emotions on the regular (she is seeking help as she was diagnosed with Depression/Anxiety) and makes me feel guilty if I ever want to just return home (to my parents) back to my life.

I’ve had to sell my hobby stuff just to even keep us trucking along sometimes because she was unemployed for a bit. Can’t even play video games in peace without her being a thorn in my side. All I ever get to do now is eat, sleep, work, and try to get her happy by just doing whatever she wants so I don’t hear her complain.

Then she spends money on useless things that we don’t even need that are $US100+ ($140)+ costly. If I even speak up, it’s another argument. Hell, she bought a dog without my say so. She even got a roommate for us that I didn’t even want. (The house we’re in is her family’s; it was given to us to use till we could find a place, just have to pay rent/utilities/repairs. Which is another long story that involves stupid crap.)

Sadly I’ve got no way to pay these bills off faster, and they are all under my name, so it would trash my life/credit horribly. Can’t even start getting the hormones that I’m needing to help transition. I’m literally stuck and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Do I risk trashing my life in hopes that it’ll be weight lifted off and breathe better? Or stick it out until the bills are paid and hope to God I’m not damaged further?


Damaged and Suffering

This is an easy one, DaS: get the hell out. Get the hell out now. You should be running from this relationship like all of hell and half of Hoboken is after you.

To be perfectly honest, you should’ve ditched this woman when you found out that she was married and hadn’t told you. Being poly is one thing. Hell, being in a poly or open relationship with someone, even when you haven’t met their other partner(s) isn’t that unusual. Her having a husband that you didn’t even know existed until you moved in together is a giant goddamn red flag.

But you didn’t. I understand why; love isn’t just blind, it has a tendency to stick its fingers in its ears and sing “BLAH BLAH BLAH I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”. It’s hard to leave a relationship, even when you need to. But now you know what you know, and you know what you need to do. You’re asking for my permission to do so. So let me count up the red flags and all the reasons you need to leave, right the hell now.

We covered the fact that she lied to you. But then there’s the fact that this is a one-sided poly relationship. It’d be one thing if that were something you had agreed to; there’re plenty of relationships where only one partner plays outside of the relationship, and everyone’s happy with that arrangement. It’s another entirely when it’s “partners for me and none for thee” and she gets pissy when you even bring up the topic. That is yet another red flag.

But then, she makes potentially life-altering decisions without consulting you? That’s another huge red flag. Buying a dog saddles you with responsibilities that you never agreed to. Bringing in a roommate without telling you? That’s another massive disruption to your life, one that you had every right to be consulted over, long before it ever went beyond the “maybe, possibly, theoretically” stage.

Of course, the capper is the fact that she’s actively interfering with your transitioning. This, quite frankly, is waving more red flags than a military parade in Tienanmen Square. It’s all bad enough that she’s lied to you and holds you to rules you never agreed to.

But the fact that she’s keeping you from what is clearly an important part of your identity? Someone pulling that isn’t just a Relationship Extinction Event, that’s cause to dump them so hard their grandparents get divorced retroactively. She’s keeping you from being you. She may say that she wants to be there every step of the way, but she’s making damn sure that it’s never going to happen.

And this is before we get to the fact that you’ve had to sell your stuff to support her bullshit and she’s trying to keep you from your parents. These are all signs of a toxic relationship that’s verging into outright abusive and all the more reason to get the fuck out already.

So yeah: get the everloving fuck out of this house and this relationship. Get out so fast that you leave a human shaped cloud behind you. Smash through a wall like someone yelled “Hey Kool-Aid” if you have to.

Because I am here from the future to tell you: this isn’t going to get any better, DaS. The longer you stay, the more you’re going to find yourself entangled in her life. She already has financial ties holding you down and she’ll find more ways to make you feel obligated to stay. Whether out of guilt, financial chicanery or just sabotaging every relationship you have, she will grind you down and shut down every chance you have to leave until you’ll feel trapped, like a shadow of who you used to be.

So pack your shit, change the password on every single account you have and grab every single document with your name on it. Make sure you revoke any access she has to your credit cards, your bank accounts, hell, even your goddamn piggy bank.

Cram as many of your possessions you can cram into a U-Haul and peel out of there so fast that you leave fire trails in your wake. Go back to your parents until you can stand on your own two feet or find roommates of your choice.

And what about those bills and your credit? Fuck it. If you insist, you can continue to pay the bills without living with her. But if you can’t… well, call it the “Escaped The Arsehole” tax. Credit can be repaired. It only takes seven years for bad credit to drop off your report. It can take a lot longer to undo the damage to your soul that this woman’s doing.

Get the ever-loving hell out of there now; you’ll be in a far better position to figure out your next steps when you don’t have this anchor dragging you down.

Trust me: the moment you’re not stuck in this toxic morass will be the scariest and happiest you will have known in quite some time. And while you may need time to heal and to get back on your feet, you’ll be able to live your life on your terms, as your authentic self.

It’ll be scary. It’ll be intimidating. And it will be worth it. You’ll be OK. I promise.

Get out now, DaS. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.

Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast.

His dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is on Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.


  • I think the chlymidia one is exactly as it seems. It’s too unlikely. I’ve been an incidental chlymidia spreader in my youth, and it came from not being monogamous. I believe the evidence points to his partner seeing an ex who is also having further relations elsewhere.

  • You know. This was all really good advice. It’s all about communicating, but if you identify the person that you’re with as someone who’s bad for you, you gotta move on.

  • Meh, if she cheated she’ll prob never tell you the whole truth anyway. Everyone deserves a second chance so proceed with caution and if it ever happens again, fuck that cheating bitch off.

  • Similar situation, we’d both taken tests at the start of our relationship (She actually had a couple because of reasons), all clear (Y). Several years into the relationship, married, trying for kids, she gets pregnant and has a STI check and suddenly we’re both positive…. Chlymidia checks as we found out are only 90% effective. We both had several instances of false negatives. I think she had 3x false negatives….

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