Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Shuvani Sanyal, MD
This interview came in as an anonymous submission via the contact form after the interviewee found The STI Project’s website and also happened upon an article we wrote for Take Part, which, was syndicated by Yahoo News. As we spent the first part of this year working on external outreach, it’s delightful to hear our efforts were worthwhile – we succeeded in reaching readers via some new channels.
That said, this interviewee had a message I found exceptionally valuable. As a gay man who’s courageously found support in coming out both with his sexuality and a recent infection, he’s discovered a gap in education which often gets overlooked. The gay community, long having been pinioned by HIV, has done remarkable work in terms of HIV-specific awareness, education, and acceptance.
However, seemingly lesser infections frequently get overlooked. Having one sexually transmitted infection puts one at a higher risk of contracting others; so, it’s necessary to promote awareness, education and acceptance about all sexual health risks – HIV being one of many.
This interview is a step in the right direction: promoting HSV and general STD awareness as well, so others within the gay community, and all those who are sexually active will be able to be knowledgeable about their risks – all of their risks – before engaging in sexual activities!
1. How old are you?
2. What do you do for a living?
I work in higher education.
3. What STD do you have/have you had?
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD?
Not sure when I contracted the virus, but I had my first outbreak in early July 2012. I was officially diagnosed later that month after a blood test.
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD?
No; I have never been tested for HSV before this outbreak. I waited two years to have sex, because I was afraid of getting an STD.
I did have sex with a guy a week before my outbreak, and I think I contracted it from him. He said he was ‘clean’, but most clinics don’t always test for HSV.
At this point, I’ve let go of trying to figure out who I got it from. It’s in the past now.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD?
The only part of my life that has really changed is my sexual life. I have to take it much more slowly. Other than that, my HSV diagnosis doesn’t come into play with other parts of my life.
It’s been a little less than a year since I was diagnosed. I’m grateful that since my first outbreak, I haven’t had any others. Hopefully, I won’t have anymore, but only time will tell.
Casual sex and random hookups are not an option anymore. It’s not that I did that a lot, but it took me a while to mourn the loss of not having the option to do it.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
No. I’m finding that it’s really only an issue for me. It was difficult to muster up the courage to tell a close friend, but it was worth it. In fact, it brought us closer together. Plus, she has a friend who has it and was able to share some valuable advice about her friend’s experience.
Another one of my friends is an STD counselor and he didn’t bat an eye. He told me not to have sex when I’m having an outbreak and to take acyclovir when I am [having an outbreak]. Also, he told me it’s 100% necessary to disclose to every sexual partner.
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.
I have a prescription for Valacyclovir. I’m taking it right now, because I’m seeing someone. I don’t plan to take medication if I’m not sexually active.
Also, I take L-Lysine daily. I know there is no data to support that L-Lysine works, but taking a supplement to boost my immune system can’t hurt in my view.
9. Has having an STD hindered past relationships?
Since my diagnosis, I’ve dated one guy for three months. Herpes was not an issue for him. He really respected the fact that I disclosed to him (he thought it was hot that I took responsibility), and we agreed to take it slow. I couldn’t ask for a better experience telling someone I have herpes.
He also told me I was too interesting to let something like herpes get in the way of us getting to know each other. That was very healing to hear.
However, my sex life with him was different than before. I’m a gay man. We never had anal sex, and we were waiting for both of us to be comfortable. We did everything else and had to get creative. Even though there wasn’t penetration, I was satisfied sexually.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD affected your partner?
This new relationship is the only other guy I’ve dated since my herpes diagnosis. My last relationship ended for other reasons. In fact, after we realized a relationship wouldn’t work, he asked if we could still see each other intimately. The only reason I bring that up is to share how much of a non-issue herpes was to him.
I’m seeing another guy now. We haven’t been intimate yet. I told him I want to take it slow. To be honest, taking it slow is the best thing for me. I’m really getting to know this guy well before we take it any farther.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD whom you did not tell you had an STD?
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD?
At first, I was devastated. I thought my dating life was over and that no one would love me again, ever. I now know that is not true, and I can have, and deserve, a loving and healthy relationship.
Physically: I’m fortunate that, in my fist year, I only had that one initial breakout. So, physically, it hasn’t changed my life much at all.
Emotionally: I have a tendency to worry and obsess, so I really have to manage that properly. As time goes on, there are days when I don’t think about herpes at all. Or, I should say, I don’t let it consume my thoughts. Luckily, I have a strong support group that I can share with when I’m going through a difficult time.
Dating: I get anxiety over disclosing to someone. I don’t know if that will ever change. Also, I still have a little shame about having an STD. But, this is my life now; so, I can either give in to the fear and hide alone – OR – I can face my fear and take a risk for falling in love.
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?
Having HSV is not the end of your dating life or the world. It is a manageable virus that is not life-threatening.
I also want to help educate the gay community about HSV. Rightfully so, the gay community predominantly focuses on HIV. I understand, because that is a life-threatening virus. But, in my opinion, there needs to be more education about HSV in the gay community too. I think a lot of gay men don’t know how common it is.
Finally, if you have HSV, you are not alone. This might be a weak analogy, but I’m gay, and I know what being in the closet about something feels like. It’s so valuable to find a support group or a trusted friend to talk about this with. I’m very fortunate to have a therapist and I go to HELP meetings. The more I talk about it, the less shame I feel about it. It puts herpes into perspective, and it’s not as big of a deal as I think it is.
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!