Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Shuvani Sanyal, MD
This interview came to us as an anonymous submission via the contact form.
What’s great about this post is that it amalgamates the two story-telling formats we have on The STI Project rather beautifully – STI Interviews and free-form writing. The author chose to answer the interview questions, which, can be a nice point of reference for other readers, but also utilized our last and open-ended (intentionally open-ended, might I add) question to do a bit of free-form story-telling as well.
The result is incredibly poignant, touching, and provides a perspective I am certain others will relate to.
Thanks so much for helping us break the stigma, and for your willingness to share your journey authentically.
1. How old are you?
I am 35 years old.
2. What do you do for a living?
I work in the pharmaceutical industry.
3. What STD do you have/have you had?
I have HSV.
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD?
I was diagnosed in 2005.
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD?
I have my suspicions, but nothing concrete.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD?
My life has changed drastically since being diagnosed. I became more aware of my vulnerability and how vulnerable others can be if they’re not fully aware of all of the facts.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
I would have to say no. Aside from my doctors, only three people know I have an STD, and I don’t talk to two of them anymore (totally unrelated to diagnosis).
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 only seek treatment during an outbreak, and I have used both Valtrex and Zovirax in the past.
To prevent outbreaks, I try to eat right, sleep enough, and control my stress levels, which, is not always easy.
9. Has having an STD hindered past relationships?
I wouldn’t say it has hindered my past relationships, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was already with my current spouse.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD affected your partner?
I do have a significant other; we have been together for almost eight years. We both have HSV and were diagnosed in the same week, so we have coped and grown together through the process.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD whom you did not tell you had an STD?
Sadly, yes, but I felt so guilty about it that I later confessed.
I was cheating on my significant other with someone I didn’t know very well. The information was well received, but the situation itself was unhealthy for all involved and needed to stop.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD?
I have changed in many ways since being diagnosed.
After a lengthy grieving period, and a tremendous amount of emotional upheaval, I made the decision to: a) stay with my spouse in spite of information that came to light because of our diagnoses, b) to not be as promiscuous as I had been previously, and c) realize that the ‘someone else’ everyone believes these things happen to was me this time.
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?
I am choosing to share my story with other readers who may be in a similar situation so they can, hopefully, learn some valuable insight from my experience.
[When I was diagnosed,] I was 27 and dating a married man who was having at least two other affairs at the same time as ours. I was not aware of that at the time, and had been told all along that he had only been with his wife since the day they met, and the only reason he was having an affair with me was because they had come to an agreement in their marriage. I had always kept an open mind about sex, and felt that if their situation worked for them, then that was their business, and as long as he was going home to his wife, then I was allowed to see other people if I wanted to.
We were seeing each other for about a year when he called to tell me his doctor thought he may have herpes, and that I needed to be checked right away. Seven days later, I got the results back as positive, and for the next seven days, I had to retrace my entire sexual history with him ad nauseum, which, is when it became very apparent his wife was not as agreeable to his philandering as he’d previously led me to believe. He was so terrified that she would find out, and to this day, I doubt if she knows.
I was devastated to find out I had herpes and felt that my life was over. I wanted to have a husband and kids someday and couldn’t see how anyone would want me after finding out about my STD. I knew I was ‘clean’ when we started sleeping together, and since I believed him about not cheating on his wife until me, I felt guilty – thinking that I must have contracted it from one of the other people I had dated and then gave it to him. He calmed me down, and we continued to see each other since we both already had HSV. We made the agreement that I would not see anyone else, but things changed between us afterward.
About six months later he was served divorce papers; his wife found out he was having an affair (not with me, but I didn’t find that out until later). He made the decision to try to save their marriage, so I let him go with my blessing. I realized I was alone for the first time in almost two years, and had herpes. It was during this insecure time that I exposed someone else to the virus, and as we began spending more time together, I realized how selfish it was of me to take advantage of his trust; so, I told him the truth. He was ok with it, saying that it wasn’t fatal, and they make medicine to keep it under control, so he didn’t think it was anything for me to be so upset about (I was sobbing uncontrollably by then). That was the first time since my diagnosis I had any hope for the future I wanted.
In a strange turn of events, the married guy came back into the picture saying his marriage was irreparable and he had wanted to be with me all along. At this point, I already felt guilty for thinking I had given him (and probably his wife) herpes and ruined their marriage, which, in turn, took a toll on his career and cost him his job. I had always loved him and felt like I had ruined his life just by being in it; I owed it to him to be with him after all of that. So, I broke things off with the other guy, and devastated him in the process, to give things with the married guy a chance, since there was nothing to hide anymore.
About two years into a barely committed relationship fraught with worry, strife, doubt, guilt, obligation and a growing level of resentment due to suspicions and lies about cheating (go figure), I finally had the opportunity to speak with his assistant from his former job who told me the entire story. During our relationship, and before his divorce, he was sleeping with her and lied to her about me when she found evidence of our escapades. Since she was married too, and had her own secrets to keep, he asked her to pretend to be his wife and ‘handle a situation’, which, involved convincing an angry man on the phone that she was fully aware that her ‘husband’ was sleeping with his girlfriend, and they met at the bar where she was a stripper. This had nothing to do with me, and she said the angry man on the phone emailed her pictures of his girlfriend and the married guy together, and it definitely was not me. The assistant later called the married guy’s wife and told her about the cover-up, which, is what caused her to file for divorce.
I was floored, to say the least, and three years of guilt turned into anger. By then, my self-esteem was so low, and I was convinced that he was the only person who would ever want me, because I have HSV, and the only reason I received the positive reaction from the other guy was because he was trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
I waited six months to bring everything up and let [the married guy] talk me back again after I left him. We both knew full-well how, for years, he turned things around to make me feel like I was the reason he had an STD; meanwhile, he never even hinted at the part he played in the entire drama. He never once accepted an ounce of accountability, while I had made a martyr of myself in an attempt at atonement.
That took years for me to accept, but things improved as we were able to move forward and put the past behind us.
We eventually got married, and while it has been mostly good times, there have been plenty of bad as well. We aren’t going to have any children for multiple reasons, one of them being HSV, and not being a mom still breaks my heart to this day. The truth is, I don’t think I would have stayed with him if I hadn’t felt so guilty, insecure, and obligated to him due to everything that happened.
Looking back, I see that I stopped living a lot of my life because of the stigma I put on myself for having HSV.
The only people I ever confided in were accepting and supportive, but I punished myself so no one else could and excluded myself so no one would ever have the opportunity to reject me for having herpes.
I regret this so deeply now, and hope this story can help other people in similar situations.
Don’t let the stigma of an STD define who you are and who you want to be, and don’t give up anything you want because someone else has made you feel like less of a person because of your STD. Up to 70% of the world’s population has HSV, and of that number, only 30% know they have it. It’s very difficult to tell who gave what to whom and when it happened… If it’s curable, then you’re lucky, and be more careful in the future. If it’s not curable, then try to make the most of the experience, and please help to educate the world.
Let’s end the stigma of STDs.
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!