The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
You would never look at me and think I have an untreatable STD. You probably wouldn't consider it if you knew me, or even if you knew my sexual history. It's clear that people don't think that of me, when they joke about "herpe-gono-syphilis" and other STDs, in front of me—and why would they think that, when I laugh along with them? But if you had one too, you would know that there's no personality trait, set of morals, or physical attribute that makes any set of people more or less likely to contract an STD. Any person who has been in bed with another person in any circumstance has rolled the dice.
If you asked me, I'd tell you I have herpes.
I was five months into my now-two and a half-year relationship when I first showed symptoms of herpes. It started as little red bumps on my thighs that a few doctors misdiagnosed. When I experienced my first flare-up, I thought I'd developed your standard yeast infection. The unsympathetic, older man with an accent, who was my doctor at the clinic, tossed around the word herpes like it was just a head cold, as he gave me my very first (and quite aggressive) pap smear, and I cried on the table as the nurse held my hand.
My initial reaction was to think my boyfriend had cheated on me to contract herpes and spread it to me, since we had been together for a few months before I appeared to have caught it. That was before learning that not everyone who has herpes ever actually shows any symptoms, and that occasionally symptoms don't start for a while, contrary to what most information packets tell you. As it turned out, my boyfriend didn't even have herpes and I had contracted HSV 2 (commonly known as the oral strain) through oral sex, the one time I decided to try taking part in the college hookup culture before meeting him
It was hard for me to come to terms with my diagnosis. It made me feel dirty and unworthy at first, because that's how society sees sexually transmitted diseases of any kind. I worried that I would never find another partner if I ever went back out into the dating world, and that no one would ever see past it; I worried that I wouldn't even be able to create children some day without spreading this horrible thing called herpes to my husband. But those thoughts and feelings were all based on what society had taught me about the disease.
So I did my research. For most carriers, outbreaks are most frequent within the first year, and subsequently become significantly less recurrent and milder. Additionally, once you have a prescription from your doctor, you can begin taking the medication as soon as symptoms begin, and nip it in the bud, so to speak. You're much less likely to spread it if you're not currently experiencing a breakout (but it is definitely still possible), and after talking to your doctor, you can take a small dose of the medication daily to help further prevent spreading it to another person. Using condoms is definitely still a great idea to avoid spreading and for a multitude of other reasons, but if you have herpes, hope is not lost for you to ever receive oral again [in the case of the oral strain], or to decide with your partner to have unprotected sex someday, without necessarily spreading it.
For me, the worst part of having herpes is just having it. I'm afraid of having to tell a guy that I'm really into, "hey by the way, I have herpes and I hope you'll still sleep with me," obviously. But since the first year, I've only had two breakouts, which have both been mild at worst. If dealing with the stigma is worse than the pain or discomfort brought upon by herpes, than maybe there shouldn't be a stigma about it at all.
Here are some things I've learned since my diagnosis:
- Tell any sexual partner IN ADVANCE about your condition (this includes any act where your infected area is in contact with their genitals and/or mouth!)
- Be careful. Use condoms. Don't be sexually active during a breakout (it would probably be uncomfortable anyway); wait until it is completely gone and refrain if you feel like you might have a breakout coming on.
- Educate yourself, educate potential partners/hookups. If you do that confidently and use protection, they will most likely be cool about it.
- Remember how common herpes actually is, and that nearly anyone could be in your shoes.
- Do not let this disease or what anyone says about it make you feel like less of a person. You are still amazing in a million ways, and this does not define you.