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This interviewee’s story is not unlike many others we’ve heard on The STI Project. Women who are shocked and ashamed, after attempting to save themselves for marriage (read: abstaining from penis in vagina sex), yet still contracting an infection, like HSV2, while enjoying other sexual activities.
What’s heartbreaking is that the shock and the shame is completely unnecessary. Abstinence-only sexual health education does our young adults a gargantuan disservice by failing to communicate that all sexual activities are “sex” and that all sexual activities contain some level of risk. It frustrates me beyond measure to read these interviews, because the experience could be positively affected with exposure to comprehensive, empathetic, inclusive, and empowering sexual health education. Instead, our young adults are left in the dark, scrambling to make sense of the fear-based education they’ve received.
This is not an original outcome. There are hundreds of thousands of young women, just like me and just like this interviewee who wind up with an infection, feeling ostracized from their loved ones, and unable to advocate for themselves with new partners. Thank you, interviewee, for sharing your perspective here – you are not alone – and we need your voice to effect the change we’re seeking.
1. How old are you?
I am 19 years old.
2. What do you do for a living?
I am a full-time student, majoring in dental hygiene.
3. What STD/STI do you have/have you had?
I have HSV2 genitally.
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD/STI?
I have had it for 5 months.
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD/STI?
From my boyfriend at the time, through genital contact, ironically, while I was still a “virgin.” My ex claimed he never had symptoms but also had not been tested recently.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD/STI?
It was hugely disappointing to learn I was infected with this, and I have felt very ashamed and dirty. After breaking up with my ex for other reasons than this, I felt cheap and vulnerable, which put me in the position to be taken advantage of by another man.
Having this happen after I had wanted to save myself for a man I would love made me no longer respect my body.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD/STI treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
I told my sister who I am closest too, and she was understanding. I would never tell my parents or the rest of my family, because I would be judged not only for contracting an STI but also for being sexually active in the first place.
Aside from her, and my ex, I have only told the men who I been in bed with.
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 was treated with acyclovir after my initial painful outbreak but have not used any medication since then. I haven’t had any other outbreaks aside from mild irritation.
9. Has having an STD/STI hindered past relationships?
Of the two previous relationships where I told the man about my condition, one guy was not discouraged in the slightest and was even willing to have unprotected sex with me. I realize this was probably due to the fact that he was mentally and emotionally unstable, but at that point, I was not making wise decisions. The other guy, despite his initial shock, still wanted to have sex with me as well.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD/STI affected your partner?
I am currently dating a man who is very conscientious about only having safe sex and staying “clean,” so our sexual activity has been limited to manual stimulation and me going down on him.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD/STI whom you did not tell you had an STD/STI?
Yes, but not in a way that would expose them to the virus. After all the pain and frustration this has caused for me, I would never do that to anyone. I have gone out with a number of guys and have given them oral, but none of the relationships progressed far enough for me to have to tell them.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD/STI?
I cringe inside every time someone makes a herpes joke.
I choose not to date the college guys my age, as I feel they are not ready for a committed relationship, and I don’t want my friends and peers to know that I have this. Instead I opt for meeting people online who are mature enough to handle this situation.
13. Why are you choosing to participate in this interview and/or is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I hope being open and honest about my STI will help me process it and regain my self-worth.
I also would like my story to help break the negative stigma about herpes and to educate people about it and promote safer sex.
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!