Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Shuvani Sanyal, MD
This interview was written by Lindsey Wahowiak, author of the xoJane post titled, ‘The Year of Two STDs or Why My Vagina Has Been on Hiatus.’
Having found Lindsey via the xoJane post, I knew her story would touch our readers and I was delighted when she agreed to contribute.
Telling one’s story either publicly or anonymously is never easy. That Lindsey is motivated to advocate for others and to help eliminate unnecessary and overtly damaging stigma makes her story not only poignant, but inspiring as well.
What’s more, she’s even offered to participate in a podcast with us, and we’ll be talking out loud about stigma, her experiences, and the work necessary to help eradicate those misconceptions. Stay tuned to our Happy Hump Day Podcasts (every Wednesday, er, hump day – as we get over the hump of the work week) to find out when she’ll be airing with us!
1. How old are you?
2. What do you do for a living?
Health journalist by day, freelance writer by night
3. What STD do you have/have you had?
HPV (which lead to precancerous CIN-2 and VIN-2) & HSV1
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD?
HPV for more than a year; HSV1 for about six months
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD?
HPV? No idea when or where that came from. Unfortunately, there’s not an HPV test for men, so men don’t know when they pass it on. HSV came from a partner who had a suspicious zit under his beard. I always practiced safe sex, but unfortunately, condoms don’t prevent HPV or HSV.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD?
Well, I’m significantly lighter in the wallet. It costs money to treat precancerous growths – co-pays, medication, transportation to specialists.
Every once in a while, I’m uncomfortable if I’m having an outbreak.
And for a while, I took myself off the dating market, because I was stressed out about my own health. Being a bummer around yourself makes you a bummer around other people, and no one wants to date (as) a bummer.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
I think my mom is disappointed, despite knowing how common both STDs are.
But, in general? Not really.
When there was the threat of cancer, especially, friends were very supportive.
Because HPV and herpes (both type 1 and 2) are so common, I think people feel like they’re very much alone when they’re diagnosed. It’s only upon opening up that you hear how many other people are dealing with the exact same thing. And then it’s not so scary anymore.
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.
Nope! I have a backup prescription of Valtrex ready in case of an outbreak, though.
And while I’m done with my treatment for precancerous growths (Imiqimod, a cream that essentially burns cells off of your body), I’m taking folic acid and L-lysine to boost cell turnover and just, in general, to be healthier.
9. Has having an STD hindered past relationships?
I don’t think so. Anytime I’ve disclosed having HPV, folks have been understanding. More than one dude has said, ‘Oh, I know about that, my girlfriend had it.’ None of them have realized that meant they were probably carriers, though.
And my most recent partner was the one who passed on the HSV. Having that talk really sucked, but it helped me to become more open with discussing my own health. I don’t think the next time will be nearly so difficult.
That could be because if you Googled me, you could find out about my status.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD affected your partner?
Nope, I’m single and available.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD whom you did not tell you had an STD?
I have not.
I’ve always had an ‘honesty is the best policy’ approach (‘I just broke up with someone and I’m still sorting through that!’ ‘I feel sick and will surely vomit if I do not get home immediately!’ ‘I think you are still in love with your ex-girlfriend!’), and so far it’s served me well.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD?
Honestly? I took a lot of time to assess what I wanted in life.
I got a little more introspective. I spent a lot of time alone, because dealing with potential cancer is very scary, and the treatment for the growths is super painful.
I dropped people from my life who didn’t make me feel like my best self. I stopped going on dates that I knew would be terrible from the get-go. I got a cat, because it’s nice to have a critter to care for. I spent more time with my closest, best friends. I started planning to travel.
Basically, I started looking out for me a little bit more. And I started talking about my health in a very public way, in hopes that I can help break down stigma.
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?
Jenelle reached out to me after reading my essay on having STDs at xoJane.
I think I had some preconceived notions about herpes, especially, before I was diagnosed, and I thought I was really well-educated when it came to sexual health.
So if I was wrong, how many other people out there have awful ideas about these infections and the people who have them?
It’s scary to put your name and face out there and say ‘Hey, here I am, and I have ____,’ but honestly, if we don’t do that, we never break down stigmas. It takes a couple of brave souls to come forward, and then you’d be surprised who around you will come up and say, ‘me too.’
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This interview was written by Lindsey Wahowiak, author of the xoJane post titled, ‘The Year of Two STDs or Why My Vagina Has Been on Hiatus.’ Lindsey Wahowiak is a health writer and competitive baker. She lives in Washington, D.C., with a plant and a cat. Learn more at lindseywahowiak.com. You can also connect with Lindsey via Twitter @lindseywoho.
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Can you relate to Lindsey’s story? Did it help you to read her perspective? Have you experienced something similar or do you have some feedback to share with her? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!