There’s something red on my butt cheek. It’s itchy. I pull my pants down and stand on my tiptoes to see it reflected in the mirror. It could be bites from the hay that I sat on at the Renaissance Faire yesterday. But I actually didn’t sit on any hay. Because I thought about bugs biting my ass just before I sat down. It could be from the eight different porta potties I used after drinking ye olde pear cider or from sitting out in my boss’ backyard watching her son’s dog smell his own poop.
It sort of looks like a biting spider did donuts on my ass, but I can’t really get a good read on it. So I reach around back with my phone camera on selfie mode and see it isn’t bites at all. It’s a cluster of tiny red bumps, the whole shebang two or three inches in diameter. It actually looks quite a bit like a legendary hickey I got around this time last year, in almost the same location.
Oh god, what if it’s herpes?
It can’t be herpes — the bumps don’t hurt and I don’t have a fever. Unless they’re really early herpes. But I haven’t had sex in three months! But that doesn’t mean anything in the mysterious world of STDs. I did use those eight porta potties yesterday.
“Can I get herpes on my butt cheek?” I search.
Affirmative. Genital herpes can show up anywhere in the “boxer region”.
I have no choice. I have to do an image search of herpes. I flip back and forth between photos of herpes and my ass selfie. They don’t look at all similar. I try to find photos of “early herpes” and “new herpes” and “first day herpes” but I’m basically getting the same red blistery genitals. That’s not what’s on my butt cheek.
But what if it is? It’s pretty common and I can learn to live with it but it’s hard enough to get a guy to settle down with a nice girl who doesn’t have herpes. With that stupid stigma, I may never get a date again. But I could raise awareness about having safe sex and advocate for other folks with herpes and change that stigma! I could be a voice for my generation!
It really doesn’t look like these photos of herpes, though.
I look at an article about twenty-nine different rashes a person can get on their butt, looking for a photo that looks like mine. I pass over scabies, poison ivy, and hives. I know what hives look like. I’ve had them on my butt.
Boom — there it is. A cluster of tiny red bumps.
I look at the caption.
It’s diaper rash.
I think I have diaper rash.
It doesn’t make any sense that I would have diaper rash. But it does. I’d been feeling self-conscious in the dress I picked out to wear yesterday, so I searched through my dirty laundry for my single pair of high waist middle-aged lady underwear that would keep a few parts of me from jiggling. I washed them in my sink with some detergent and hot water and then used a hairdryer on them. They were still damp when I saw my ride’s “I’m here” text. I pulled them on anyway. They’d dry eventually and I emotionally needed the gut-concealing underwear. They did dry, maybe an hour or two later as I sat in the back of my friend’s Honda sipping iced tea and forgetting about my wet undies until this moment.
I search “adult diaper rash” and see image after image of the same rashy crop circle I have on my ass cheek.
It could still be herpes, though.
I text a photo of it to my mom. She’s pretty good at rashes and has seen her fair share of the diaper variety. For the first time in months I’m thrilled to announce that I’m not (currently) sexually active. It’s 4am her time, but she says she was already up when I texted. My sister has a rash too. It’s on her leg and it’s something she’s had before, or lyme disease, so she’s going to her college clinic at mom’s urging. Mom asks for the dirty details of my rash and then says, “brb” while she probably searches for photos of rashes.
“You have really sensitive skin so I think diaper rash,” she says and prescribes giving it some air over night and then checking on it in the morning.
When mom’s advice is “let’s see what happens,” it’s probably not herpes.
So now when I say being twenty-three feels like being an “adult baby,” I really mean it. I may pay my own taxes, but I can still get diaper rash.