All through our teenage years we are taught the importance of safe sex and the importance of using a condom, and how STDs can run rampant in college. Even so, many of us think that getting an STD will never happen to us. At least, I certainly thought it would never happen to me. After all, I planned on waiting on sex until marriage. And I figured that even if I did choose not to wait, there was no way I would do it without a condom. I thought I was totally safe. Unfortunately, STDs can come from more than just traditional intercourse.
When my boyfriend and I first started dating, I was what you would consider inexperienced—I really hadn’t gone past kissing and making out. In high school, my friends always teased me for being the innocent one. But even though I’d had boyfriends, I just didn’t have a big interest in getting really physical. Deep down, I knew I just wasn’t ready. I wanted my first time to be with someone I really, really cared about.
Fast-forward to college; though unexpected, I suddenly found myself in a serious relationship. My boyfriend and I were (and still are!) close, and we hit it off fast. Not only did we have the same interests and sense of humor, but we also had the same morals and relationship goals. We took the sexual part of our relationship a lot slower than most college couples might. As our relationship progressed, I knew I was ready to take our relationship to that level. For the first time in my life, I truly felt “ready.” Maybe not for intercourse, but I wanted to do more than just make out.
Most of my life, the idea of oral sex had just sounded gross to me. I remember thinking, “You want me to put my mouth where?” But with my boyfriend, I didn’t feel the same way. I wanted to be intimate with him.
The first time we had oral sex, I remember my boyfriend mentioning he had a cold sore, but I thought nothing of it at the time. A few weeks later, when I was home for a break, I noticed I had a cold sore forming as well. I texted him about it, teasing him about how it was all his fault. He jokingly replied, “Sorry for giving you mouth herpes!” Even though this text was meant as a joke, it made me freeze. How could I have forgotten cold sores were a form of the herpes virus?
I called my boyfriend immediately, and started freaking out. “What if I really do have herpes—down there?” I asked, panicking. He was quick to pass this off as impossible. He kept reassuring me everything was fine, and that you don’t get herpes from a cold sore. I hung up feeling okay and told myself to just forget about it. But I’m a worrier—and I just could not let this herpes thing go. Even though I know Google is always the enemy when it comes to searching medical issues, I couldn’t help myself. Naturally, what I found only scared me even more. Everyone was saying that yes, you can get genital herpes from cold sores!
For the next few days, I was a total wreck. I alternated between being 100 percent sure I had an STD to being 100 percent sure there was no way that was possible. Mostly, I was just downright scared. The moment I got back to school, I swung by my campus’s medical center. Since I had a cold sore, the herpes virus would show up positive on a blood test no matter what, so instead, I had to rely on a gynecological exam.
This was my first time visiting a gynecologist, and the fact that my first visit was for an STD test made me feel so embarrassed. In retrospect, I should have visited the gynecologist before becoming sexually active, just to get a standard check-up. But the doctor was so reassuring; she told me she saw girls just like me way more often than you would think. She examined me and gave me the news—yes, I had herpes… down there.
At first, I felt like my whole life was over. I was convinced I would never have sex, never have kids, that I was marked. I was going to have to walk around with blisters forever. But once I got the facts, I realized that my fears were mostly unfounded.
First of all, the doctor explained to me that it is totally possible to have healthy kids with genital herpes. This was a big relief, since I know I want to have a family in the future. Then she began giving me the facts about living with herpes. I learned more in her office than I ever had in health class! She told me that most people get an initial breakout, and then never experience the symptoms again. Even if they do, there are medications that can get rid of the outbreak quickly. Some people who experience frequent outbreaks take small doses of these pills every day for prevention. The pills also make it harder for one to give the virus to someone else. In fact, even if you do have herpes, a combination of the medicine and a condom make it pretty hard to pass it to someone else. Oh—and way more people have herpes than you might think—it affects about 1 in 4 people. And most people don’t know they have it because they aren’t symptomatic.
Even though I left the doctor knowing I had an STD, I also left knowing life with it was totally manageable. To this day, I have never gotten outbreaks. Still, knowing I’ll have to tell future partners about my STD scares me. But it’s the responsible thing to do; honesty is key, and if I were on the other side of it, I would want to know.
Telling my current boyfriend about my STD was hard, but he is incredibly accepting. Being able to share everything I learned from the doctor with him really helped him understand what living with herpes is like.
What they say in health class is true; STDs can happen to anyone who is sexually active in any capacity. Abstaining from intercourse does not protect you completely. You can get STDS from having oral sex, even if your partner doesn’t have the STD genitally. Whether you’re currently sexually active or not, it’s important to be educated on the different kinds of STDs and how they can be transmitted.
I have an STD, but that doesn’t make me a pariah. Would my life be easier without it? Yes, of course—but I can’t go back in time. If I could, I would have used protection from the start, and I would have done more to educate myself before becoming sexually active. STDs are not something to be taken lightly. For now, I have to accept the mistakes I’ve made in the past, as well as how they will affect me in the future.
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