Last Updated on February 21, 2021 by Jenelle Marie Pierce, CSE, Executive Director
Submitted anonymously via the contact form, this woman’s interview brings back so many similar emotions. While it’s been 15 years since I was first diagnosed, the shame, personal disgust, and overwhelming uncertainty about my life ahead engulfed me for so many years following my herpes diagnosis.
I write a lot about how I’ve been able to move past that point, but not everyone is able to reconcile the emotions that come with an STD. And that’s ok too. What’s important is that we’re able to share those perspectives.
Pain is palpable in this interview, but beyond that, there’s a beautiful story we can all relate to, and that’s feeling like we have to face ourselves and our accompanying emotions alone.
Time helps many folks, but knowing that, in time, things will get better doesn’t do much to provide solace in the present. Having a safe space to share our stories is integral to reducing stigma, and in doing so, we have an opportunity to help one another and make the experience a little bit more bearable.
1. How old are you?
29 years old
2. What do you do for a living?
I am an attorney.
3. What STI/STD do you have/have you had?
Herpes, not sure if it is HSV1 or HSV2, and right now, I don’t think I want to know.
4. How long have you had or known you have an STI/STD?
For about 2 months
5. Do you know how you contracted this STI/STD?
I was dating a guy, and a week after having sex, I started showing symptoms; so my doctor thinks I got it from him. He claimed he didn’t have genital herpes, although, he does have oral herpes, which makes me feel that I have HSV1.
I was so alone. I was actually changing jobs and moving to another city at the same time I received the diagnosis… I had to tell my mother. My former fiancé slept around quite extensively (before we met), but he never cheated on me (at least that I know of), and my mother swears I got it from him and was just now showing symptoms. If it was from my former fiancé, I could have contracted the virus between 4 and 6 years ago.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STI/STD?
I am so depressed and so alone. I don’t feel like I can ever date again.
I had a really bad initial outbreak to the point where I couldn’t even urinate. I had a few sores show up in the second month, around the time of my menstrual cycle, but because I am aware of having the virus, I feel like there is something wrong down there all of the time.
I am probably fine physically, but mentally, I feel like I am having an outbreak every single day.
7. Do the people who know you have an STI/STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
The guy that I was dating at the time was completely fine with it. In fact, he still wanted to be sexually active with me, and I had to tell him I would let him know when the outbreak was over and we could resume sex. He claims he was going to get tested, but after I moved away, we ceased all forms of communication.
My mother is my best friend, and so I told her. Ironically, she informed me that my father gave her herpes about 35 years ago, and she had only a few outbreaks in the beginning. For the past 29 years, every blood test has been negative for herpes. She has yet to have another outbreak and did not even have one while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. It kind of gives me hope that one day I will be okay. She also informed me that she later dated a guy who had herpes, and they had a perfectly normal sex life.
This past weekend I told my best friend, and he is the only other person who knows. We had had sex in the past, before my diagnosis. I have always had a crush on him, so I felt weird telling him. His response was, ‘This is not a big deal. Shit, I probably have herpes and don’t even know it.’ He told me it was nothing to worry about and that I was super special.
I just hope every guy responds that way. While he probably doesn’t treat me different, I just feel like he does. Normally, he always make sexual jokes like, ‘Man, I would love to sleep with you tonight,’ and he didn’t make any jokes after I told him. I don’t know if its because he knows how sensitive I am to the issue right now, or because he is disgusted with me. It is probably the first reason, but I feel it is the latter one.
I am not ready to tell anyone else because of the social stigma attached with this. That makes it worse, but it is hard coping with this alone. When my father unexpectedly passed away, I had support from friends and family, but with this, it is just me coping.
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 am not a fan of prescription medication. I feel my body won’t develop as good as of an immunity to the virus if I take prescription medication. I have decided to treat my herpes the natural way. I take L-Lysine, garlic pills, and if I see a sore pop up, I put Tea Tree Oil on the sore, and the next day, the sore is gone.
9. Has having an STI/STD hindered past relationships?
I haven’t had any relationships since being diagnosed. But my biggest fear is how it will affect future relationships. I don’t even want to date because of this diagnosis.
My best friend told me that he would still have sex with me in the future, and he would never leave his partner just because she had herpes. I feel he is saying that because he is not actually facing that situation; it is easier said than done.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STI/STD affected your partner?
I am single, and I plan on remaining single for a long, long, long time. I need to cope with having the virus before I can bring anyone else into my life and help them cope with my diagnosis.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STI/STD whom you did not tell you had an STI/STD?
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STI/STD?
I am so depressed, and I feel so ugly. I also used to want to get married and have children, and now, I have no desire to do that. I just want to crawl up into a hole and hide out for the rest of my life.
I was such an intelligent, ambitious person, and now I don’t even care about my career. I am afraid to do anything for fear it will cause an outbreak. I know they say the first outbreak is the worst, but mine was so severe that I am afraid the next outbreak will still be super intense.
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 doing this because I want to get rid of the social stigma attached to herpes. Even though I don’t want to tell anyone, and I probably won’t, I want to get to the point where I can tell everyone I have herpes and not be embarrassed by it.
I used to be such a strong person, and I don’t know why I can’t be strong in this situation. I, normally, don’t care what people think about me.
I find that life is unfair. I have only had 5 sexual partners my entire life, and it was the 5th one that I believe I contracted the virus from. I have tons of friends who have had numerous sexual partners, like 15 to 20, and don’t have an STD. Though, my mother says I don’t know that they don’t have an STD.
I am afraid now that I will contract another STD, because herpes increases your chances.
I guess I have to feel lucky that I only got herpes. I have a friend who has Multiple Sclerosis so bad that he can barely walk. I remember balling my eyes out in the exam room and my doctor saying, ‘this isn’t cancer, you will be okay, your worst enemy right now is time.’ I wish I could look at it the way she does. My thought rationale is, ‘yea, but cancer can be curable, herpes isn’t.’
I am going to have this virus for the rest of my life.
While the virus isn’t harming me physically, it is destroying me mentally. I have an appointment with a counselor this week, but I am so embarrassed to even tell him.
I am so mad at myself for being so stupid. The sex was great, but not that great. I used to enjoy sex, and now I am so afraid to engage in sex, because (1) I will have to tell my partner of my diagnosis, (2) contracting another STD, even though I will use protection from now on, and (3) it will be painful and/or cause an outbreak.
I haven’t had herpes long enough to know what my triggers are or what symptoms I will have before an outbreak. I feel like I have been having one huge outbreak for the past two months. My initial outbreak lasted for at least 6 weeks. I feel like I am so stressed over this that I am causing myself one outbreak after another.
I am super healthy, so that’s why I don’t understand how I could be having such a bad outbreak. I mean, I didn’t even get flu like symptoms on the initial outbreak, just severe pain. I don’t eat sweets, I eat tons of fruits and vegetables, I eat only gluten-free foods, I work out 5 to 6 times a week – running and doing crossfit. I mean, my labs are unbelievably great. I have an excellent resting heart rate. I don’t understand how someone as healthy as me can be having so many outbreaks or such a severe initial one. But like I said, it could be more of a mental thing (i.e. I have made myself think I am having an outbreak) than a physical thing.
It is nice to read about other people’s experiences, but at the same time, it freaks me out. Some people are like, ‘I have herpes, who cares, life is great.’ Others are like me, ‘my life is over; I have outbreaks every single day,’ etc.
I just need to learn how to cope with this, how to get over my anger with myself and the guy who I think gave it to me, and mostly importantly, get over the embarrassment associated with this diagnosis. I know I am just as intelligent and pretty as I was before. I am probably even going to turn out to be a better, stronger person after I have learned to adequately deal with this.
I enjoy reading how people have learned to cope with it. I read once where a blogger stated herpes was the best thing to happen to her. It helped me reduce my stress level, and every time I get an outbreak, I know my immune system is getting low, so it just makes me take the time out of my life to focus on myself and my health. I want to eventually be that blogger! I want that outlook again on life. I know I will, it just takes time, as my doctor said.
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!
I know exactly what you are going through and how terrible it is initially. I know it is inconceivable, but you will regain your strength and self worth. It is important to empower yourself by being about talk about it though. I was unable to unfortunately. The words, ‘ I have genital warts’ , literally couldn’t come out of my mouth. So learn from my mistake. If you are able to tell people about it, showing you have dealt with it. It empowers you and removes the stigma. I did as you feel, curled up, didn’t socialise and concentrated on studying. However, I felt I was hiding a big secret and unfortunately made some mistakes that I am still trying to forgive myself for 10 years on. It sucks, no doubt, but be upfront and people will respect you more for it and you will respect yourself. My biggest regret is not talking about it potentially putting someone else at risk. You have done nothing wrong!! Remember that. Keep posting, talking about it, crying and you will get through this. I know how much this takes the wind out of your sails. I felt invincible before my diagnosis, like no problem couldn’t be overcome. Then this happened and I felt like everything was lost. The only way, in my opinion, to get through and be a stronger better person is talk about it and confront… As hard as that is.
Sincerely good luck and keep posting through your journey and recovery back to your old self.
Hi Anonymous –
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and suggestions! We are definitely much stronger together and learning from one another’s experiences.
I have been living with Herpes for about 25 years. I use to have OBs about once a year “down there” then I started taking Valtrex, which seems to have suppressed it for about 2 years before another OB. My OBs are tiny, 3-5 tiny blisters about the size of a eraser head. I use liquid band-aid over the sore (I roll it on with a Q-tip – 2 layers with a few minutes between each layer.. using fresh Q-tip with each layer and then tossing the Q-tip) I read doing this online and it heals my sore within 3-5 days. Much quicker than just letting it heal on it’s own terms. I have never passed my H onto a partner. Ever. I am always very conscience about that and never take for granted that it “could be healed up”; no sex until ALL symptoms are gone. Just oral sex since I haven’t had a lip blister since I was a kid. The only lasting effect I have from Herpes is the SHAME that is put on too this STD through the media. Sit-coms and TV shows and News stories make me feel shameful and filthy and like a total whore.
So, here is my comments:
MEDIA. Why has there NOT been a lawsuit against the media for shaming and mentally damaging people with herpes?! Can you imagine a Sitcom when a person makes a snide remark about Carol giving John HIV/AIDS and the entire audience laughs? Or makes snide or funny remarks about passing along HIV/AIDS. OMG, The media and social groups would be all over it. Lawsuits on Hatred would be filed. It’s like if you have HIV/AIDS, that cool. No sweat. We’re all good. . And…how about HPV? It’s now: “just a part of life”. It’s a STD that can cause you cancer and possibly death!! HIV/AIDS and HPV can kill you, though everyone treats others with it like, “don’t worry, you’re cool, we can help you, no worries” but if you have Herpes, you are treated like a leper! Shamed all over the media! Herpes doesn’t kill, but it can cause blindness (I think that is the worse). They say 1 out of 7 people have Herpes. My gynecologist told me: WRONG! about 3-4 out of 7. He said I would be amazed on how many people he treats. He also said that many people have it and know it but won’t get treatment. Either they are in denial or whatever. He was the only doctor who said, “it’s okay, it’s really not a big deal”.
So why isn’t there are lawsuit on defamation or whatever on the media to stop making fun of people with Herpes and causing those with the virus mental anguish and a lifetime of shame? I know some women that don’t ever have another relationship or hide it so much and live in a world that “they are the only one with it”. The media doesn’t treat those with HIV/AIDS like filth. The don’t do it with HPV people. (And they shouldn’t!) No one deserves feeling “dirty” on having a cold sore “down there”. No one. No one makes fun of people with Cold Sore in their lips, but when it’s “down there” you are a filthy person. I hope a group of people put pressure on Hollywood to stop shaming others and causing people to live with shame and causing many people a lifetime of pain. Life is about living, not about living with shame.
Thank you for allowing me to rant. I feel much better now. I hope the above makes some sense.
Hi Amy –
Your comments totally made sense! I agree, the media contributes to the stigma associated with all STDs – herpes, in particular – and we should stand up to their portrayal of people with STIs/STDs and the negative jokes they use.
If I had to guess, there’s not been a law suit, because no one has been willing to stand up and first say, “I have herpes” publicly, and then “I don’t like how you’re representing the infection”… Most people don’t want to associate themselves with an STD at all – even when it’s supporting awareness, because they’re afraid people will think they have an STD too. Also, the media can’t really be sued for comments or jokes about a ‘thing’ unless they’re talking about a specific person and defaming them.
So, no one says anything, because people are afraid of the repercussions, and the jokes keep getting used. It’s a shame and a cycle that takes folks like us and websites like The STI Project garnering attention before anything changes. It will take some time, and working together, but I do think we can change how these things are talked about.
Thanks so much for your comments, Amy!