Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
As an anonymous submission via the contact form, this interview touches on some pertinent issues which affect all of us who’ve contracted an STD – no matter the type of sexually transmitted infection.
Across the board, stigma negatively affects all of us, and a lack of education surrounding the pathophysiology behind these infections sometimes elicits some incredibly ignorant and, ultimately, painful remarks (read: contracting an STD from a toilet seat).
That’s why sharing these perspectives aids in minimizing misconceptions. STDs – all kinds – happen to people from all walks of life, and it’s our job to support one another, to help educate, and to reduce the stigma together.
1. How old are you?
2. What do you do for a living?
3. What STI/STD do you have/have you had?
I’ve had chlamydia, HPV, and HSV2.
4. How long have you had or known you have an STI/STD?
HPV was diagnosed 15 years ago, herpes 2 years ago.
5. Do you know how you contracted this STI/STD?
No. It was one of 3 men, and none of them admitted to having any STDs.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STI/STD?
It hasn’t changed that much, other than feeling unwell for a few days during an [HSV] outbreak.
7. Do the people who know you have an STI/STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
Sometimes, I feel that certain people who know treat me differently. An example is a family member who doesn’t let me babysit for them anymore, and I have no real way of knowing if it’s related or not, but this person once told me they were grossed out to know someone else in the family had herpes, because they had shared a bathroom with that person.
I’ve also had the experience where I’ve opened up to someone about it, and they said they had it too and that it’s no big deal.
8. Are you currently under treatment for your STI/STD? If so, please share whether you have explored prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, or holistic and natural approaches.
I’ve tried prescription medication and am looking into trying supplements like vitamin c and L-lysine.
9. Has having an STI/STD hindered past relationships?
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STI/STD affected your partner?
Yes. I hadn’t been diagnosed with herpes when we met, and it was still a big mystery as to what I might have; so, he contracted the virus from me.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STI/STD whom you did not tell you had an STI/STD?
I may have by accident, since I did not know I had herpes.
I’ve always told my partners I have HPV, though.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STI/STD?
I feel I can educate people more about STDs, and, hopefully, remove some of the attached stigma, because [STDs] are so common.
13. Why are you choosing to participate in this interview and/or is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I am tired of STDs being treated like they are some awful thing that only happens to people who sleep around and do bad things – rather than viewing them as the common side effect of sex that they are.
Can you relate to this interviewee? Did it help you to read someone else’s story? Have you experienced something similar or do you have some feedback to share with this individual? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
- Would you like to share your STD story?
- STD? What Now? Your Ultimate Reference Guide
- HPV – Resources, Info, and Personal Experiences
- About Chlamydia
- HSV2 – Info & Personal Stories
- Herpes – Resources & Personal Perspectives
I am writing because something horrible happened to me and I don’t want it happen to anyone else. I took the HerpesSelect Elisa Method test twice a year ago and tested positive twice. I had very high averages (5.8 and 5.6). I had never had any symptoms and I had only had had 3 partners my entire life at the time. I subsequently went through a year of deep depression and contemplated suicide. I never accepted that I had HSV2 and when I read about the University of Washington’s Western Blot test I jumped at the chance to take it. It turns out I NEVER HAD HSV2. I tested negative for HSV2. This is the gold standard for HSV tests. I am angry and upset and I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Please spread the word.
Hi Christine –
Thanks so much for sharing your story – I certainly understand why you’d be angry and upset, as a herpes diagnosis is often quite traumatizing. In so far as testing is concerned, it’s important to understand the different types of herpes tests and why a false-positive result can happen…
Although the gold standard for herpes diagnosis is to do a viral culture or nucleic acid amplification test (NAT) from a visible sore, it is possible to screen for asymptomatic herpes infections using a blood test. The reason that viral culture and NAT are the gold standard for herpes testing is that these tests look directly for the herpes virus. There is, therefore, a relatively low risk of false positives, which can be a serious concern with a disease as highly stigmatized as genital herpes.
In contrast, herpes blood tests look for antibodies to the herpes virus, and there is some possibility that these tests may detect antibodies to similar viruses that are cross-reacting to the tests – thus leading to a person believing they have an asymptomatic herpes infection when they do not. The risk of getting such a false positive is related to the specificity of the particular herpes blood test being used and also to the prevalence of herpes in the population getting tested.
No test is perfect. It’s always possible for a test to give inaccurate results, and the accuracy of a herpes blood test depends on which specific test was used. The sensitivity/specificity of two different relatively standard Herpes blood tests are as follows:
~91% sensitivity and 92% specificity for HSV1
~96% sensitivity and 97% specificity for HSV2
~99% sensitivity and 95% specificity for HSV1
~97% sensitivity and 98% specificity for HSV2
If you make the reasonable assumption that around 50% of the population are infected with HSV1, the virus primarily associated with oral herpes and cold sores, and 25% are infected with HSV2, the virus primarily associated with genital herpes, then the positive predictive value and negative predictive value are as follows:
HSV1: Approximately 92% of positive tests give the correct result.
HSV2: Approximately 92% of positive tests are correct, and 98% of negative tests are correct.
HSV1: Approximately 95% of positive and 99% of negative tests are correct.
HSV2: Approximately 94% of positive and 99% of negative tests are correct.
In summary, the herpes blood tests are actually pretty good! In a relatively high prevalence population, they give accurate results the vast majority of the time. It’s worth noting, though, that if my prevalence estimates were off and we worked from the assumption that only 10% of the population is infected with either virus, then although almost all negative tests would still be accurate, positive tests would only be correct 55% to 85% of the time.
The possibility of false positive tests in low prevalence populations is one of the reasons that screening for herpes is not widely recommended – they want to avoid situations like your own, since the stress of a false positive test may outweigh the benefits of early detection of the virus in someone who is asymptomatic. Still, since herpes can be transmitted in the absence of symptoms and suppressive therapy can help prevent transmission, I personally believe that screening is worth considering if you know you may be at risk, particularly if you are in a situation where you could be exposing new sexual partners to the virus.
It is, however, important to first understand both that false positive tests can happen and that, even if you are infected with a herpes virus, living with herpes is not the end of the world.
Thanks again for a great response!
Is this real life? Somebody had a false positive and are COMPLAINING about it? I’d honestly give up anything, no, I’d give up EVERYTHING for a doctor to call me up and tell me they made a mistake. Yes, hsv2 isn’t the END of the world perse, and for me, it hasn’t been long since my initial diagnosis so i havent had the chance yet to experience rejection etc. but it’s the end of my confidence, my innocence, my belief that I even have a chance at finding the love of my life now that my self esteem is pretty much depleted and my brokenness can be sensed from miles away. Plz, friend, if your test was a “false positive”, be grateful. I don’t know what else to say.
I’m sorry I didn’t write this blog post to complain. I just wanted people to know that if they haven’t had symptoms that there are some tests that are very inaccurate.
Hi Wendy & Chris –
What’s great about these comments is that they illustrate how polarizing and traumatizing an STD (or faux STD) diagnosis can be.
So, there’s something larger here beyond someone lamenting about the reliability of tests or someone else being depleted by a real diagnosis, and that something, I think, is culpability. What I mean is: why are we so shocked, embarrassed, and broken when we receive any kind of STD diagnosis at all?!?! (I know the obvious answer to this question; I’m reaching beyond that.) Did we engage in sexual activities with someone of whose status we were unaware? Did we know the real risk of the sexual activities in which we were engaging? Did we practice comprehensive safer-sex? Keep in mind, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to answer those questions. Even then, had all of those questions been answered ‘correctly’, and had we still acquired an infection, why are we taken aback? Our bodies are not infallible – resilient, yes, infallible, no – and when we become intimate with someone else, we are exchanging fluids, skin cells, and more. By the age of 25, 1 in 2 people will have or will have had a sexually transmitted infection or disease, and as we get older, that number increases. So, the odds of us encountering someone who has or has had an infection is high. The point I’m making? Why are we shocked at all? Answer: ignorance. Or, a nicer way of saying that is: a complete lack of education about sexual activities, their risks, ways to negate risk, and sexual responsibility. Simply, we don’t know; so, when it happens to us – no matter how we got to that point – we feel wronged, and, meanwhile, society says we’re bad people – which, of course, is ridiculous, but, again, is a result of ignorance. You see the horrible cycle we’re in here?
Anyhow, I love that the two of you had this brief conversation. I understand – entirely – the trauma one undergoes with both short and long-term infections, but I wonder if the conversation needs to turn on its axis a bit: it’s not that some tests aren’t accurate or that some people receive false-positives and become upset, it’s that we, typically (unless you’re me and you run an STD website), know very little about the things we really should know before we engage in sexual activities. Sex is fantastic, and I’m in no way discouraging a healthy sex life, but I am worried that when we begin engaging in sexual activities for the obvious rewards they present, we’re not at all equipped to deal with the corresponding risks.
Thanks, guys, for inspiring a great discussion!