Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
From New York to Brazil, Washington to Australia, living with an STD poses similar challenges across the globe.
This interviewee sent in her answers with an enthusiastic offer to help The STI Project and it’s mission to eradicate stigma after experiencing STD stigma in the medical sector. As such, one could easily get discouraged. Instead, she decided to do some research and take action, and we commend her for that!
Her story is unique to her but also very typical of the experiences one encounters when first diagnosed with an STD and the journey that person undergoes to love themselves again.
Reading these interviews and sharing them with my readers not only helps those coming to The STI Project seeking reassurance, it’s a constant reminder for me how necessary this website and the overall mission is for millions and millions of people.
So, thank you so much for sharing your story; I am certain it will touch others, and your contribution is already so very helpful!
1. How old are you?
2. What do you do for a living?
I’m a student nurse. Can you believe it, a student nurse with an STD?
3. What STD do you have/have you had?
I have HSV1 on the genitals.
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD?
I contracted it a year ago and realized within a day or two. Herpes is painful!
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD?
I (even with my health knowledge) had unprotected sex with someone with an oral cold sore, and they used saliva as lubricant. We weren’t dating.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD?
In some ways, it has changed exponentially.
In others, it is completely the same as it was before.
For a while, my perception of myself was horrible; there was a lot of negative self-talk! That still comes through sometimes.
I was very depressed for a while and ended up taking medication to help resolve that.
I have been fortunate enough to get very few outbreaks and have changed my life in a way to prevent them – by keeping my immune system on top of things. I’ve actually made some really positive dietary and exercise changes and now feel better than ever. Some days!
The biggest change I’ve had is the complete eradication of stigmatism to people with STDs in my mind. I really feel for people with STDs.
I can’t stand herpes jokes.
In truth, there’s nothing funny about herpes.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
I thought it was going to be horrible when people knew. But I took the leap and told my best friend, and she was fantastic about it.
I told selective people who knew me very well and who I knew cared about me, and every one of them understood that it was a really devastating thing for me and were incredibly supportive.
It’s so much easier to have people on board so you’re not dealing with it alone.
I know that having herpes made me feel so isolated, and people I know helped me not be so alone.
8. Are you currently under treatment for your STD? If so, please share whether you have explored prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, or holistic and natural approaches.
On an outbreak, I take a prescription antiviral, but other times, I just make sure I get enough sleep, good food and exercise – help my immune system fight it.
9. Has having an STD hindered past relationships?
In some ways, yes.
When I have an outbreak or oral cold sore, I can’t kiss/have sexual contact with a partner. That’s a real pain in the arse as I like kissing my boyfriend!
I’ve been very fortunate in that the two relationships I’ve had since have been with people who were really supportive of it, and after a good deal of explanation, understood what I was going through.
Emotionally, the only way it hindered relationships was in my perception of self. I would sometimes get in moods where I didn’t want anyone to touch me, because I felt ‘diseased’ or ‘disgusting’. These periods are becoming less and less as I learn to deal with the associated stigma.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD affected your partner?
My significant other is a fantastic person, also a nurse, who listened for hours until I had run out of things to say and told me that he was fine with it.
He actually seemed more interested in the pathophysiology of the illness – a real bio-brain!
I think it frustrates him when we’re unable to have sex or kiss due to a flare-up, but he knows that frustrates me too. In his words, ‘It’s just a virus, no different to a cold. And I’m not kissing you with a cold either!’
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD whom you did not tell you had an STD?
I wasn’t having an outbreak and we used condoms, but I felt exponentially guilty afterwards.
Imagine if I’d given it to him, made another person feel as horrible as I had felt. I didn’t give him all the information to make an informed judgement as to whether he wanted to sleep with me.
As hard as that talk is to have with someone, it’s not ethical to not tell someone.
It showed a complete disregard for his health and feelings, and I’ll never do it again.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD?
I am far more understanding of people with STDs.
I want to tell everyone I can that it’s okay to have one, and it doesn’t mean anything about your character or level of intelligence. It’s just something that happens, and it’s really terrible, but it can be dealt with if you have the right support.
I want everyone to know that there’s someone to talk to who will sympathize and not judge when they’re feeling down about it.
I’m a more open and accepting person. And best off, I’m going to be a better nurse as I know not to judge anyone with a ‘lifestyle illness’.
13. Why are you choosing to participate in this interview and/or is there anything else you would like to share with The STI Project?
I found participating in this interview therapeutic in that I got to talk about it.
The opportunity doesn’t always appear when it’s needed.
I was upset about it today. In my biology unit, we covered reproductive microbiology (STDs), and the heading for the lecture slide on herpes was titled: ‘Love is temporary, HERPES is forever.’ This was coming from a university nursing bioscience unit.
It made me so angry.
We don’t make fun of people with the flu or type 2 diabetes. Even better is that 6 STDs were covered, and herpes was the only one containing a joke in the slide. I wanted to write a letter to the bio department and explain that it was unfair and very insensitive, but I didn’t want the whole department to know or even assume that I’ve got herpes.
I don’t have the strength for that yet.
But every fiber wanted to tell them that although they think herpes is a funny thing, there’s nothing funny about it.
It’s devastating. It’s a horrible trust violation, it’s painful, and it’s embarrassing. It made me feel like my life was over and drove me to a horrible sad place.
So, I don’t, in any way, appreciate the reminder that its ‘forever’.
Nurses are supposed to be better than that.
As a result, I want to offer my support to this project in any way I can. Do let me know if there’s anything a nursing student from Australia can to do stop the stigmatism.
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!