Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Saurabh Sethi, MD, MPH
It’s interviews such as this one that speak to the value of having access to resources and educational tools that support and encourage sexual health.
Quite often, we’ve found that a person’s opinion about their diagnosis improves with time. For some, it takes longer than others [read: it took me years and years to overcome the immense shame, fear, and self-loathing I felt], but the more we share our experiences and perspectives with one another, the better prepared we are to handle a socially traumatic diagnosis, such as an STD, and the more those diagnosis become less and less traumatic.
It’s a win-win for everyone who’s sexually active, and that’s precisely why we do what we do.
1. How old are you?
2. What do you do for a living?
Full-time college student
3. What STD/STI do you have/have you had?
Chlamydia, HSV2, and HPV
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD/STI?
I contracted chlamydia in the summer of 2012.
I have known I have herpes (HSV2) since March of 2013.
I had an abnormal pap smear in the summer of 2013 (due to HPV).
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD/STI?
I know who I contracted chlamydia from – I had a summer fling with a guy who had no idea he had chlamydia. He was asymptomatic, and we didn’t always use condoms.
I have no idea who I contracted herpes from, or when I got it. I have narrowed it down to two possible partners, but it still remains a mystery to this day.
I don’t know who I contracted HPV from, and I probably won’t ever know, because there is no test that males can take.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD/STI?
In the past year since I’ve contracted herpes, I have had a lot of depression over the matter. I am definitely more anxious about contracting other STDs, especially HIV. It has affected my self-esteem quite a bit.
Initially, I felt like a slut, because I contracted three different infections in one year.
I have also become tremendously educated on the topic of sexually transmitted infections. I no longer judge other people or assume that STDs are only contracted by promiscuous people.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD/STI treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
Not that I know of.
If anything, it’s made me closer to certain people. After I told my mom, our relationship has gotten much better. I never talked to her about sex before I got herpes, fearing she would judge me. But she has been a tremendous support to me, and now I feel like I can tell her almost anything.
8. Are you currently under treatment for your STD/STI? If so, please share whether you have explored prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, or holistic and natural approaches.
I currently take 500 mg of famciclovir every day, only because I want to reduce my asymptomatic shedding and narrow the chances of spreading HSV to my boyfriend.
In the first few months following my diagnosis, I constantly felt different degrees of itching and irritation on my genitals. I rarely had outbreaks, but the itching and irritation made me feel as if I was constantly being reminded that I had herpes. I took antivirals daily to mitigate my condition, but I didn’t find that they made much of a difference for me.
Over time, my immune system has learned to fight the infection better. In the past six months, I’ve noticed that even if I don’t take the medication, I rarely have outbreaks and don’t even notice any itching or irritation. I have found that eating clean, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly is the best way for me to prevent outbreaks.
9. Has having an STD/STI hindered past relationships?
Somewhat. A couple of months after I got herpes, I started dating a guy who, supposedly, did not care that I had herpes at all. We always used a condom when we had intercourse, but he refused to go down on me because he was afraid he would get it orally. This wasn’t too big of a deal, and I had to respect that decision, but it still kind of hurt my feelings.
After a while, he lost interest in having sex with me at all. He denied that it had anything to do with the herpes, but I’ve never really believed that. We broke up shortly afterward.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD/STI affected your partner?
Yes. It doesn’t bother him.
Our relationship consists of so much more than just sex. He really does love me for me, so something like herpes doesn’t scare him away.
We use condoms about 90% of the time, and I take Famvir (famciclovir) to reduce the chances of him contracting it.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD/STI whom you did not tell you had an STD/STI?
I’ve always told any potential sexual partners that I have herpes (and I’ve never been rejected because of it).
I have never told my current partner about the HPV. I am not proud of this, and I believe there should be full-disclosure in every sexual relationship, no matter how small the risk of contraction is.
Honestly, I kind of just forgot about the HPV. I got the Gardasil vaccine years ago, and didn’t even know I could get any kind of HPV until my abnormal pap smear last year. I know that I am vaccinated against the 4 of the most common cancer or wart-causing strains, but I still feel guilty for not telling my boyfriend about it.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD/STI?
I am so much more educated on STDs and sex, in general.
I have discovered that I have a passion for sexual education. I’m not sure what I want to do as a career, but I know now that I would like to help people who have or have had STDs, particularly college-aged people.
Before I got herpes, I admit I was a little bit promiscuous. I saw sex as a fun activity, not an intimate experience you have with someone you truly love. I had low self-esteem. I used sex as a means to pull men closer to me and keep them around. Despite my efforts, I almost always ended up heartbroken.
I knew little to nothing about STDs, thanks to dismal sexual education in public schools, parents who treated sex like it was taboo, and most of all, me being immature and not taking the initiative to educate myself. I’m not saying that I completely blame the fact that I was ignorant on getting STDs, because even when you are very educated and take all the precautions known to man, anybody can contract STDs, but getting herpes was a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to take a step back, and decide what it was that I really wanted in a romantic relationship.
Even though I felt horrible about myself for a solid six months after my herpes diagnosis, I can now say that I love myself more than ever. It’s funny how something that can do so much damage to your self-esteem can also force you to love and value yourself more.
13. Why are you choosing to participate in this interview and/or is there anything else you would like to share with us?
This is my second interview with The STI Project. I did an interview shortly after my diagnosis, approximately one year ago. I’m doing this interview again, because I now have a different perspective than I did back then.
I want people to know that herpes, or any STD, for that matter, is nothing to be ashamed of. There was a time when I was incredibly ashamed. I felt like damaged goods. I felt like no man would ever want to be with me again. I’m not sure exactly what made me change my mind, but one day I woke up and decided that I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself.
I realized that in order for me to change how society views STDs, I first had to change myself.
If you go around believing that you are dirty and undesirable because you have herpes, then you are no different than our society that puts so much unnecessary stigma on such a common issue. In order for others to accept us, we must first accept ourselves.
I really want to spread awareness on sexually transmitted diseases. Like I said, I knew little to nothing about STDs before I actually got one. I had no idea that you could have an STD without having any symptoms. Our society puts an incredible amount of stigma on anything relating to sex. We refuse to properly educate our children on sex as a way to protect their innocence, and then we’re baffled when they go out and have unprotected sex that results in STDs and unintentional pregnancy.
It’s unfair how the media explicitly glamorizes sex in movies and music, but when somebody has sex and suffers one of the negative consequences (i.e. teenage pregnancy, STDs), they are shamed and labeled as ‘dirty’ or ‘slutty’. It’s completely absurd, and I want to change that more than anything.
I feel lucky to have my boyfriend, because he makes me feel awesome and beautiful, herpes and all. I believe that everybody, including those who have an incurable STD, are capable of having a relationship with someone who thinks they are too amazing to pass up. I also acknowledge the fact that I might be rejected someday for having herpes, as many people are, and it’s going to hurt like hell. If that does happen, I’ll just have to move on and accept the fact that that person was not the one for me.
When it comes to having herpes, I have my good days, and I have my bad days, but all-in-all, it really hasn’t been that bad.
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!