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Herpes Denial


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So I'm a 25 yr old women with Herpes 2 (genital herpes). I've had it for four years and it's been a strange road for me. I first became aware that something was wrong with my vagina while camping with friends on a two-week trip. My symptoms were painful and mortifying. Trying to keep it under wraps while in an unforgiving environment was really stressful. It added this level of shame to the experience. Being away from doctors and the Internet, I called my best friend and told her my symptoms. She called me back after Internet searching and told me I probably had herpes.

In my mind I was in denial I thought I had some kind of bug bite combined with a UTI. I had this feeling that I was untouchable and herpes couldn't happen to me. Meanwhile I was in a complicated dating situation. I had two boyfriends in the past three months and had just gotten back together the first one before the trip. I called him crying and asked if he'd giving me something. He said no, and was concerned for me. When I got back from the trip he was so caring and soothing, reassuring me that maybe it was a spider bite and I should just go to the doctor ASAP to be sure. So, then I went to Planned Parenthood and got an exam. The nurse looked at me with pity when I explained my logical explanation of the symptoms. She nodded and took my blood. 

About a week later while at work on break I got a call from a PP nurse saying I was positive for herpes 2 — genital herpes. I just broke down and cried. Right there in the back room of work, bawling. My manager came in and asked if I was pregnant. I shook my head and asked for the day off. In that moment I was heart broken and emotionally limp. 

I took the bus home and waited for my boyfriend to get off work. Meanwhile I made a list of everyone I'd slept with and went to work emailing, and calling. I don't want to seem like a slut, because every sexual interaction I'd had was authentic and precious. But up to that point I'd had a hard time staying with someone longer than three months, so there were a handful of people I had to contact. That was a mortifying process. It really sucked to say "Hey, I just found out I have genital herpes. Not sure when I got it, but you might have it, too. Um, by the way do you have herpes/are you the jerk that gave it to me?" 

After few of these interactions — all of which were awkward — I came to the man that gave it to me. His response was curiosity to what herpes symptoms were and then he confirmed by saying "Is that what that is?" It was a hard moment for me realizing I should have listened to my intuition about this man sooner. I was also sad because I started to piece it together and realized a itchy UTI I'd had following our relationship had probably been an outbreak. 

My boyfriend at the time supported me throughout that process. He was incredibly cool and understanding about it. He wasn't phased that I'd exposed him to the virus. He didn't really think it was a big deal. I had to convince him that for his safety we needed to go back to using condoms to protect him from the virus. It's funny … he had this mindset that after three months off and on dating with unprotected sex, if he was "supposed" to have gotten herpes he would already have it. So, per his request we never used condoms. We were together for a year and a half and he never got the disease. 

Around that same time I found out that my grandpa had genital herpes, too! I told my grandma and she just laughed a bit saying grandpa had it and hadn't had an outbreak in 20+ years and the whole time they'd been together hadn't given it to her. It just goes away after a while, she said. It shocked me and normalized the virus a bit. 

A couple months later I told my father I had herpes and he nodded saying, "Your step mother probably wouldn't want me to say this but she has herpes. I've never gotten it from her. It's ok honey, lots of people have it. It's normal." 

Now I've had three outbreaks since then. Each was nothing. Just a little bump, that I now know is more than an ingrown hair. I think the mildness of my symptoms and complete acceptance by my ex made me fall into this false sense of comfort with herpes. I almost forgot I had it. Then we broke up and the dating world opened back up and the reality of disclosing I have herpes came back to me. 

Around that time I made a choice that I now regret. I think it's important to talk about because I don't see a lot of people voicing this side of herpes management, but I know it's controversial. So i began to date and sleep with people insisting on condoms and not disclose anything. Part of me felt justified, I told myself that herpes wasn't a big deal, that if we used protection and I was vigilant of possible outbreaks then it was fine. 

But there is an innate correlation between telling someone you have herpes and having a real connection with them. I'd only figured out how to have a sincere, but casual sexual connection with someone, rather then a real relationship. I think it was because I was in denial that herpes was a big deal. It was a weird thought process, being that I felt it wasn't a big deal to tell someone I couldn't see being in relationship with, but petrified of telling someone I felt that bond with. That moral compass was so confused. 

Then a couple things happened, someone I was dating and just about to sleep with asked if I had anything. I'd never been asked, let alone while in bed. I just smiled and told him. He looked at me with shock and a little pity, and then said "Ok, lemme get a condom." It was the most relieving experience. After we stopped seeing each other, though, I went back to my old ways of not disclosing and found myself in a pickle. 

I was dating a woman this time and had slept with her a couple times. I felt like this was actually something big and I was feeling guilty. So I invited her over and told her. She was hurt and angry, but after she thought about it came back to me. That was a hard one. I'd realized my mistake in withholding that information from her. It had corroded our relationship and getting it back to where it had been was hard, even when she was willing to move forward. I recently felt this pit in my stomach. I woke up thinking what if even with condoms I'd given herpes to someone? 

I realized I needed to find a way to communicate that was honest, to both parties. It was while searching YouTube that I find the herpes disclosure video. I now get it and have found a way to effectively communicate. Thank you, Herpes Life.

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Hi Tigerlily!

 

Thank you for sharing your story here. Thank you for being so open. I know that telling personal herpes stories that would normally stay behind closed doors actually help many more people simply by sharing them in the open. It really reinforces that genital herpes actually isn't a big deal. It shares a story that I know so many people with genital herpes can relate with. It's amazing to me that for many people, the symptoms of herpes are — just like you said — only a little bump or two, yet there's such a stigma about it. We see such minor symptoms of the virus, yet society tells us in so many ways to be horribly ashamed of it. We don't have to be ashamed. Shame comes from the inside out. It's a decision we make whether to be ashamed of a simple virus or not. Ultimately, it's a minor skin condition: acne genitalis.

 

P.S. I'm glad you got something from the herpes disclosure video — http://herpeslife.com/herpes-talk — I had fun filming it.

 

Also, check out the handouts + disclosure e-book:

http://eepurl.com/b4IPP

Notes:

  • My mother is now in hospice with end-stage cancer, so I am at her house a lot these days helping where I can until she passes. Thank you in advance for understanding if I am not as quick to respond as I normally would be. This is a precious and bittersweet time …
  • 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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  • 2 years later...

Thanks for bringing this back to the top ... many important messages in here ...

 

Herpes is FAR more common than you think

 

Herpes can help you to create deeper, more meaningful relationships

 

Herpes helps you to see that while there is nothing wrong with casual sex, we are often using it as a way to avoid uncomfortable things like intimacy and commitment ;)

 

Herpes helps us to learn to start a relationship with integrity and honesty.

 

and sooooo much more :)

 

(((HUGS)))

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