It’s Okay to Have Herpes (Part 2)

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Guest Writer: Anonymous 

Opinions are their own. 

If you haven’t seen part 1Click Here

Being a curious person, I automatically searched for basic facts on the herpes simplex virus once I found out I contracted it. According to projectaccept.org, approximately 75% – 80% of people in the United States have either HSV-1 or HSV-2. Out of this percentage, around 80% of those infected will never have symptoms. When putting these two percentages together, this means that 60% – 64% of American have either strain of the herpes simplex virus, and will never have symptoms in their life. 20% – 25% of Americans do not have either strain, and 11-20% of Americans have either HSV-1 or HSV-2 and show symptoms. According to these statistics, the person that transmitted the HSV-1 to me was most likely not aware of the virus themselves.

The University of Montreal had interesting facts and statistics on the emotional and mental experiences during herpes outbreaks, which I found to be very fascinating. During the first episode of a herpes outbreak, 82% of people experienced depression, 75% had a fear of rejection, 69% had a fear of isolation, 55% had a fear of “being found out”, and 28% had self-destructive feelings. Many of these feelings persist throughout the first year while having outbreaks, with depression and fear of rejection still being as high as 52%. I can much relate to these feelings, and I remember feeling depressed, rejected, and isolated when I first found out. I can happily say that as time has passed, these negative feelings have subsided, although they still exist and occur occasionally.

Another statistics grabbed my attention as well, because it was specific to how I contract the virus. According to a University of Wisconsin study, 78% of genital herpes infections that were diagnosed in their clinic in 1994-2003 were due to HSV-1, which is typically associated with the oral strain of herpes. A clinic in Nova Scotia, Canada had similar results, finding 73.7% of women under the age of 30 who had genital herpes had the HSV-1 strain, and not the HSV-2 strain. All these statistics, especially these last statistics, have given me hope. I now know that I am not alone, and that many people are experiencing the exact same thing in regards to how they contracted their herpes virus. It made me feel not as alienated, and that the right people will understand and still love me just the way that I am. I am no longer scared to admit that I have herpes to close friends of mine, but I am keeping this anonymous to protect those involved or mentioned in this blog and my personal life.

If you are reading this and have herpes, just know that you are not alone. Always inform any sexual partner of your herpes virus, and explain to them that they may or may not contract the virus, or may already have the virus and are asymptomatic. Use barrier methods of birth control, such as condoms, female condoms, and dental dams, to prevent the transmission of the herpes virus. Outside of sex partners, feel free to tell anyone, everyone, or nobody, because it is your body and your life, and you can choose how much you want to share to the world. Be confident in yourself, and know that anyone in their right mind should accept you for who you are, flaws and all.

If you do not have herpes (or symptoms), I strongly suggest that you open your eyes to any stigmatizations you might hold to the idea of herpes. I have seen people be slut-shamed and almost dehumanized for having herpes. One time I went out with a friend, and I overheard a friend of hers talking to someone. “Don’t hang out with him, I heard he has herpes,” she said in the same tone that I had used the word in the past. Since this girl had been talking to us and had only shortly started talking to this other person, I interjected. I asked if she knew what kind of herpes he had and where on his body, and she just looked at me puzzled. I told her he could just have a cold sore for all she knew, and to not worry about it. Although I still used that lovely Burroughs Wellcome strategy of making cold sores acceptable and not the genital strain, I tried the best that I could to make this girl realize that herpes does not devalue a person in any way, shape or form.

Herpes or not, we need to be more cognizant of how we treat herpes in our society. I had to learn the hard way of contracting the virus myself to realize how stigmatized it truly is, and that the feelings of shame and guilt are not necessary when contracting the virus. I will admit having herpes is not the most desirable thing in the world, but it is manageable, and over time becomes easier. While it is important to still be careful of STDs and to practice safe sex, just remember that contracting herpes does not make you any less of a person, but on the contrary. Living with herpes is a very personal battle, and the more a person infected with the virus accepts their status, the more courage and bravery they gain. Be proud of who you are, and do not let the herpes simplex virus stop you from being yourself.

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