Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
For my first ever magazine interview, it turned out well.
A writer approached me to do the feature and then put what we talked about in our phone conversation into a chatty type of article to appeal to Now’s audience.
The magazine chose to take some creative leaps with my story, but I’m told this is quite common in the publishing realm – correct me if I’m wrong – so, you can imagine how nervous I was when the article arrived.
The overall story and message is clear and was mostly left intact so, to me, that’s an incredible win for The STI Project as we’re now one step closer toward eradicating the stigma.
Not to mention, I’ve gained some new friends across the pond and I couldn’t be more delighted – I LOVE those UK accents!
Now is a weekly publication and they don’t put their printed items online, so this is the article transcribed.
If You Caught an STD Would You Tell the World?
My name’s Jenelle Marie Davenport, I’m from Michigan and I have a sexually transmitted disease. Some people will assume I’ve got a little black book full of sexual partners I stupidly didn’t use condoms with – but I used protection when I lost my virginity and I’ve practiced safe sex with the very modest number of boyfriends I’ve had since.
If you catch an STD, everyone assumes you’re dirty. But the stark reality is, anyone can catch them and sometimes it doesn’t matter how safe you are between the sheets, as I devastatingly found out when I was 16. I’d lost my virginity earlier that year and slept with a couple more guys before I first noticed red blisters on my vagina. I was so freaked out by them I plucked up the courage to show my mum. She didn’t judge me but immediately took me to our GP.
That’s when I first experienced the shocking stigma attached to genital herpes. I sat in the surgery and the doctor could barely look me in the eye as he wrote out the prescription for an antiviral pill to treat the disease.
Burst Into Tears
I was still reeling with shock as I deliberated how I could have caught it. I’d been so careful – unlike some of my friends who’d been having unprotected sex. But the difference with herpes is it’s passed skin-to-skin, caused by the friction during intercourse.
Convinced no man would go near me again, I burst into tears when I got home and confided in my best friend. But she told people about it and on a school trip a few months later my roommates refused to share a bed with me. They made me sleep on the floor.
I felt so alone and I wasn’t even sure which guy had given it to me – I was too embarrassed to confront them. I’m not proud to admit the shame meant I slept with a couple more guys without telling them my secret. To my knowledge, they didn’t contract it, but I felt so guilty.
Although I’m only generally contagious during an outbreak – around four times a year – it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of infection in-between, so I knew I had to be honest with future partners. The first time I confessed to a boyfriend I was 18 and trembling with nerves. I had a whole speech planned, but just blurted out: ‘I’ve got herpes.’ I was relieved when he reacted calmly and said he still loved me. I guess he appreciated my honesty.
But telling my current boyfriend Jake* was much harder because we were so in love and I was terrified of losing him. He’s been incredibly supportive though. We’ve been together two years now and don’t have sex if I’m having an outbreak. I usually feel a tingle when one’s coming on. Sometimes the itching’s really uncomfortable but Jake’s so amazing, he even helps to apply the treatment cream.
Shame and Fear
Some of my friends haven’t been quite so lucky finding such an understanding guy. One girl was dumped when she told her boyfriend she had an STD because he saw her as ‘dirty’. That made me so angry.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve continually struggled to find people to talk to about how having an STD makes us girls feel – the shame, the fear, the way it smashes your confidence. I couldn’t even find guidance on how to discuss the issue with boyfriends, or tips on how to love and respect myself again. That’s why I made the huge decision to go public this year – to chip away at the suffocating stigma.
I set up a website called The STI Project, where I talk openly about living with herpes through blogs and photos, as well as offering other sufferers advice and helping them find acceptance. The website has only been live for six months, but already gets 11,000 hits a week. I’ve even had some women who’ve found the confidence to be identified sharing their stories, helping to break the wall of silence that still surrounds the issue.
It’s so important to me, I’ve quit my well-paid job as a financial analyst to focus on the website full-time, living off my savings. It hasn’t made me a penny yet, but money comes second to the cause.
I’ve had my fair share of upsetting comments, too. Some people say I’m disgusting for having sex when I have an STD and could infect others, but having an STD’s a fact of life and extremely common. It’s certainly nothing to feel ashamed about – and I don’t anymore.
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