Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Saurabh Sethi, MD, MPH
Interestingly, STI stigma – and in this case, HSV2 stigma – often transcends intimate relationships and can trickle into one’s public, professional, and social personas. Contracting an infection carries such immense shame that it can deteriorate confidence in all facets of life, not just the intimate ones.
As this interviewee points out, she’s not only concerned about telling potential partners after having recently experienced rejection when disclosing to a new guy, but she’s also nervous about the effect this kind of information could have on her career were her diagnosis made public. In an industry riddled with gossip and catty behavior, her fears are not unwarranted and are shared across many professions, such is the breadth of the stigma associated with all STIs.
1. How old are you?
2. What do you do for a living?
I work in public affairs as a lobbyist.
3. What STI/STD do you have/have you had?
4. How long have you had or known you have an STI/STD?
I was diagnosed in November of 2014, but last year, in April, I knew something was wrong. I was misdiagnosed at that time.
5. Do you know how you contracted this STI/STD?
Yes, I was in a relationship.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STI/STD?
I am heartbroken. I was absolutely in love with the man I was dating before he ended the relationship. He said he wasn’t ready for marriage. I didn’t know I had herpes at that stage.
I had noticed a few unusual changes in my health, but I did not have any external genital herpes symptoms, so I didn’t make the connection. With the benefit of hindsight, I had my first noticeable outbreak when I was finishing my old job. I visited the doctor and he put it down as stress. I saw another doctor while travelling the following week and requested a full STD check, including a blood test. That doctor said I was clear and also put my condition down as stress. As it turns out, they didn’t actually check my blood samples for HSV as part of the STD test.
While traveling overseas, I realized something wasn’t quite right, and I was scared by what I found online. I drafted many emails to my ex-boyfriend explaining that something wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t have the courage to send them. It took a few more months to work out what was really wrong. I fell ill with the flu, and for the first time, I had a classic herpes outbreak. I was terrified.
The situation was made worse when I was informed by my ex-boyfriend that he had met, become engaged, and was about to marry another woman.
I have never felt so empty and alone and not to mention totally betrayed.
7. Do the people who know you have an STI/STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
I have only told a few very close girlfriends, one of whom also has herpes. The one with herpes is trying to tell me that if this is the worst thing that happens in our lives, we are doing quite well.
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.
Yes. I choose to be on suppressive therapy.
9. Has having an STI/STD hindered past relationships?
I was recently rejected. He was the first person I had dated since being diagnosed, and I agonized for quite some time about how to disclose this to him. After a few tequilas, I finally did it. Admittedly, this is probably not the best way to get the message across. He said he would do some research and let me know what he wanted to do.
He has since told me he doesn’t want to take the risk. I sat in my office the other day staring out the window on the verge of tears. My colleagues were asking me how things were going with my new man, and I had to tell them that it was over. They don’t quite understand why something that seemed so promising has ended so abruptly, but then again, they don’t know that I have herpes.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STI/STD affected your partner?
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STI/STD whom you did not tell you had an STI/STD?
I am ashamed to say, yes. As I had been misdiagnosed, I was not aware that I was placing someone else at risk.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STI/STD?
I believe I have changed enormously.
I feel a great sense of sadness in my private life. I was once a very gregarious, fun-loving person who loved to banter with new people in bars and social settings. I have lost my confidence. I am sad and disappointed that I took the risk of being with my last boyfriend. I feel betrayed. I am jealous of his previous girlfriend who never contracted the condition, and I refuse to acknowledge his new wife.
I have tried to date, but I fear that I will need to marry them before wanting to risk their health with this condition. My first rejection has not assisted with my state of mind.
I am also worried about my career. I would be totally humiliated if those in my profession found out. It is a very catty industry.
13. Why are you choosing to participate in this interview and/or is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Writing this down is therapeutic.
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!