Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
This essay was submitted anonymously after the author participated in the STI Interviews. This is part 3 of a 3 part series.
Statistics help to show just how common STDs are.
According to the CDC, genital herpes is one of the most common STDs, and in the United States, about 1 in 5 people are infected. That is more than 50 million people. For every 5 people you see on the street, at the grocery store, or the gym, one of them is infected.
Of those infected, 85% of them do not know they are infected. That’s over 42 million people who don’t know they are carrying the virus. In fact, 60% of the people who are infected never show symptoms, but they can still transmit it to others while they are asymptomatic, and there’s no guarantee that the newly infected person will also be asymptomatic.
To make matters worse, standard STD checkups do not include testing for the herpes simplex virus (HSV1 and HSV2) unless requested.
How This Affects Me
I am one of those statistics. I contracted HSV2 a year ago from my boyfriend at the time.
From a personal standpoint, I can tell you that herpes does not define a person. It is merely a minor skin condition that may never show symptoms.
It is not gross.
Many people think it is one of the worst STDs you can get, because it is life-long. What people don’t understand is my life did not change after contracting the virus.
I have experienced heart-break that burns 10 times worse than any herpes outbreak. I can think of a pretty long list of pains and inconveniences that top herpes, by a long-shot.
Stigma is Worse than the Infection
What affects me most, though, are the negative attitudes and comments about herpes I experience, almost on a daily basis. I do not suffer from my herpes infection. I suffer from the stigma surrounding a faulty assumption of what herpes is and how people contract it.
Shortly after I received my diagnosis, I felt depressed, that I was disgusting, and no one would ever want to date me again.
I felt repulsive.
The stigma was always in the back of my mind, and anytime I thought about my future and getting married, I’d say to myself, ‘That’s never going to happen. Who would ever date someone or even think about reproducing with someone infected with herpes?’ I finally regained confidence and realized that there are people out there, despite the awful reputation herpes carries, who will love me for me.
I speak for the millions of other people who also have the virus when I say how much it hurts to listen to the ignorant assumptions surrounding STDs. I can tell you from experience how degrading it feels when someone talks down about certain diseases, especially when they don’t know anything about the disease.
People should never have to feel that guilt and hopelessness that I felt when I found out I was infected.
The only way to stop the stigma is by talking about STDs.
Once people understand the reality of sexually transmitted diseases and the stigma is diminished, we can slow down the infection rate. So many people face guilt and shame after contracting an STD, and they are more apt to not be honest with their future sexual partners for fear of rejection.
We need to make sexual health common conversation.
Every time a negative assumption is made, a misconception, a crude joke, or an ignorant comment is made, we need to educate. We need to let the person know that STDs have no bearing on a person’s character, and there are millions of people who have had sex with only one person and have still gotten a disease.
People have to think before calling someone a slut because they have an STD. Sexually transmitted diseases should not be taken lightly or laughed about, because you never know who is listening. Not all people who suffer from the stigma regain their confidence. Many suffer from severe depression, and some commit suicide.
That’s why we should work together, not tear each other down.
Remind yourself that if you are having sex, you are just as likely to become infected as anyone else. And of course, get tested.
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This essay was submitted anonymously after the author participated in the STI Interviews. This is part 1 of a 3 part series. The author is 20 years old and a full time student at Northwestern Michigan College. Her intended major is Philosophy, with her primary interest being Metaphysics – she hopes to transfer to the University of Notre Dame. Aside from philosophy, another one of her passions is the importance of raw food-ism and holistic healing. Her ultimate goals are to teach Philosophy to college students and be able to live an abundant, organic lifestyle.
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How did this story affect you? What do think about the stigma surrounding STDs and those who have them? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!