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Real Talk: I Got Herpes and Guess What... It Didn’t Kill Me!

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Posted on November 10 2016

I know, I know. Herpes, eww! Shut up. Most of the American adult population has herpes – orally, anyway. Have you ever had a cold sore? Congrats, you have herpes. And apparently, one of these American adults with herpes – don’t know who, it’s down to either a dead guy or a married guy and I can’t ask either of them – went down on me and gave me HSV-1 genitally. Thanks, asshole.

The first outbreak is always the worst. When my crotch started getting swollen and painful, I thought it was a yeast infection, because I’d never had one. I’d also only had penetrative sex with one person, ever, and we’d always used condoms, so the risk of an STD seemed low. But when yeast infection meds failed to cure the hot mess downstairs, when I even stayed home from work because the pain was too much, when I was avoiding drinking water because the burning as I peed was so bad I needed to slap myself in the face to distract myself from it, I decided something else was wrong. I hit my local Planned Parenthood and waited.

The minute the doctor looked at my crotch, she said the word “herpes” and I nearly cried. Actually, I think I was crying because it hurt so much when she swabbed my sore. She gave me a prescription that cleared me up immediately, but I thought my life was over.

But it turns out…nah, it was fine. In the eight years since then, the number of outbreaks I’ve gotten have been in the single digits, and none of them has been even one-tenth as bad as that first one. I’ve never gotten sores again; I’ve just occasionally gotten a little sting-y in the day or two before my period, and then it cleared up on its own. The only time I had to be on medication for it was when I was pregnant, so I could make sure I wouldn’t be having an outbreak when it was time to give birth; otherwise, I’d have to have a C-section, and I did NOT want that.

It also turns out that HSV-1 is really, really hard for me to give to someone else genitally. If we don’t use a condom, the chance of transmission is 3%; if we do use a condom, it’s less than 1%. My current partner and I use an IUD but no condoms. He’s fine.

Honestly, the worst part of it is the stigma, the way past partners have freaked the f*ck out when I told them about my herpes. (Heck, it’s why I’m writing this article anonymously!) Even when I told them the low rate of transmission, even when I told them about how relatively mild it is, I’ve had partners literally refuse to touch me once they found out I had herpes. Honestly, pal, you’d be taking a much bigger risk if I told you I had a cold. Chill the hell out.

Herpes is only ever brought up in pop culture as a punchline. It’s second only to crabs as a “womp womp” consequence for someone who was too promiscuous or careless. But herpes is, frankly, a pretty boring illness. I’ve been much more inconvenienced by, say, UTIs, or vaginal cysts, or yeast infections. But herpes are supposedly more shameful than all those. Well, eff that. I have herpes and I’m still standing here, mostly unchanged for it. Herpes is not a death sentence or even a life-altering diagnosis, and the stigma has got to stop.


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