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Poetically tragic


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It's been less than 24 hours since I realized my symptoms are likely HSV-2. A clinic basically confirmed my fears and I'm expecting to get official confirmation from the test in a few days. I've learned a ton today, including that I'm not alone. But I'm wondering how unique and hopeless my story might be.

I'm a 40-year-old male who didn't have penetrative sex until last month: on my birthday. I've only ever had any wet sexual experiences with one person. She and I decided to finally go all the way recently after over two decades of leaving something on the table to look forward to. I knew that she had slept with exactly one other guy many years ago. She also had told me that she was tested for STIs after the relationship ended because she lost trust in him. Now 10+ days after she and I were last together, I've learned that condoms don't prevent herpes and it's also not typically tested unless someone is showing symptoms.

This is devastating on many levels.

I waited my whole life to take this step with the right person and now I feel trapped. I wanted my first experience to be with her but always imagined that I could have other experiences with different people. Now I can't imagine anyone wanting to be with someone at my age who has limited sexual experience and something transmittable. If she and I ended up together, I wanted it to be for the right reasons, not because we would both feel damaged.

Assuming that she was unaware of her status, she'll feel horrible for transmitting it. The beauty of our relationship was our level of trust. We felt safe with one another and didn't have to worry about any risky behavior. My blind faith in her and my naivete regarding STIs backfired immediately. I never would have imagined that with a condom, birth control, and 20+ years of history we would have anything to worry about.

This may drive a wedge between us. If she never had any symptoms, she may doubt that I contracted the infection from her. I'm under the impression that a blood test will reveal antibodies proving that she is also positive and all but guaranteeing that she had it before me. But this isn't a good outcome. I wish that she were negative and that I had contracted this some other way but that's apparently not possible. It sucks that we're both going to have to live with this forever whether she's symptomatic or not. And at this stage of grief, I can't help but question everything I thought I knew about her and her sexual past.

I know there are many things for me to be grateful for and that other people's stories are "worse". I'm alive, healthy, and probably still have a person in my life who loves me. But my own identity has been fractured in a way that I didn't even realize was possible and I have less hope for the future.

 

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Hey there,

First off, I want to say it's really brave of you to share your story. You're going through a lot right now, and it's totally understandable to feel overwhelmed and unsure about the future. You've waited a long time for this step in your life, and having it turn out this way must feel really tough.

It's true that herpes can be transmitted even with the use of condoms, as it's a skin-to-skin transmitted infection. Condoms don't always cover up the area of skin that might be shedding virus. And yes, many people don't get tested for it unless they show symptoms, so it's possible for someone to have it without knowing. (Also, when people go in to get tested and ask to be tested for "everything" they will literally test for all STIs except for herpes ... you need to specifically say "I want to be tested for everything, INCLUDING herpes. I know, the system is whack.)

Your feelings of betrayal and confusion are valid, but it's important to remember that herpes is a common condition and having it doesn't make you or your partner 'damaged' in any way. It's just a skin condition that a lot of people live with.

As for your relationship, it's crucial to communicate openly and honestly with each other. It might be a difficult conversation, but it's better to understand each other's feelings and thoughts. Remember, trust and safety in a relationship aren't just about physical health, but also about emotional support and understanding.

If she's unaware of her status (80% of people who have herpes don't know they have it!), it's important to approach the conversation with empathy. It's likely she didn't know and didn't intentionally put you at risk. The situation might actually bring you closer as you navigate it together.

I understand it feels like a big hit to your identity and future plans, but please know that you're not alone in this. Many people find love, intimacy, and fulfilling relationships even with herpes. My wife doesn't have herpes, disclosing to her brought us closer, and we now have a 7-year old son together. Life goes on. It's ultimately about finding someone who understands and accepts you for who you are. And you might be surprised at how understanding and supportive people can be, whether it's your current partner or anyone else. This is not the big dealbreaker that it's made out to be.

Take some time to process your feelings, and maybe consider joining a support group or talking to a counselor (I also offer coaching — more details here). It can really help to talk with others who have been through similar experiences.

Hang in there. This is a tough time, but you'll find a way through it. Your story is unique, but it's absolutely not hopeless. Most of this is a mind game. As you say, it's not a life-threatening thing. But stigma could convince us that our life is over if we get herpes. Don't believe the hype. You're still the same person, with the same qualities that make you special. This is just one part of your life's journey.

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  • This content is for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis. I'm not a medical professional, so please take this as friendly peer support. 

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