A girl has needs, you know? There’s always an itch that needs scratching, both literally and figuratively in this girl’s case. I’m funny, smart, and a wicked baker – but that’s never going to matter to the world because, more importantly, I have herpes.
In reality, herpes is not as awful as everyone makes it out to be. It’s a rash with a negative stigma because – dare I say it? – it’s on my vagina every once in a while. Some people probably think I “had this coming” because of unsafe sex, but I did everything right. I used a condom; but did you know that condoms are only 50% effective in preventing the spread of herpes? I didn’t! Thanks for nothing, high school sex ed. Herpes is also rarely tested for in STI screenings unless you are already having symptoms or specifically ask for the blood test.
So, I had what is typically considered “safe” sex, then a few days later everything was a little itchy and painful down there. Automatically I assumed it was razor burn even though I’d never gotten it previously. So when I received a Snapchat from the man I’d slept with, it wasn’t exactly what my heart had been set on – to say the least. He asked about STD screenings and I threw that “razor burn” notion out the window.
He told me he’d just discovered he had been diagnosed with HSV-2. I lost my shit. My dating confidence was ruined, my sex drive dissipated, and worst of all, I realized that if I had it, I’d probably given it to someone else already. I called my gynecologist and scheduled tests and swabs and cultures, while my heart cried over the loss of consistent orgasms.
After getting back positive cultures and bawling out my eyes to my best friend, I looked at a website that my gynecologist had referred me to. It not only gave me facts – it also reassured me that no, I wasn’t going to die a tragic death. I suddenly didn’t feel like such a freak anymore.
Turns out, 1 in 3 people who are sexually active have either HSV-1 or HSV-2. Specifically, 67% of people have HSV 1, and 1 out of 8 people have HSV 2, though many researchers believe that number is much higher, because most people (85%) don’t even know they have it!
Around 80% of people have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Some have no symptoms ever. Others have a minor rash one time, and assume it’s razor burn or don’t notice it. So, it’s incredibly common, easy to transmit, and for most people, has a very minor impact.
The stigma is far worse than the lived experience. With the way STIs are discussed in our culture, you’d think an STI makes you “dirty” or is the death of your sex life. But in reality, the vast majority of people will get an STI in their lifetime (half of us before the age of 25), and herpes in particular is very common.
The more I educate myself with FACTS not FEAR, the easier it is to cope with my diagnosis. I can take antiviral medication to reduce outbreaks and the chance I’ll spread it to a partner. I can also communicate with my partners about the realistic risk and impact so they’re informed. I still have the confidence to ask for someone’s phone number, go on dates, talk about it, and be intimate. Chances are, they’ll likely have had exposure to herpes before and may have had an STI before too!