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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It’s Okay to Have Herpes (Part 1)

It's Okay to Have Herpes (Part 1

Guest Writer: Anonymous 

Opinions are their own. 

I remember a very particular instance last winter, when I was at a club, dancing away and having a good time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy dancing with an acquaintance of mine, but he had a visible cold sore on his lower lip. He was trying to kiss her, but she was resisting (To this day I am not sure if she resisted due to his cold sore or for other reasons). My eyes widened, and as soon as the two of them had stopped dancing, I told her that she better have not kissed him with that huge cold sore on his mouth. “He could have given you herpes,” I distinctly remember saying, with such a distain for the word that it was difficult to even say it. “I’m just looking out for you,” I finished my thought, as though it were some justification to protect her from the virus. That was the first real instance I realized that I was scared and disgusted by the thought of having herpes anywhere on my body. In retrospect, I remembered a time when I let someone borrow my lip balm without thinking about it, and I soon became paranoid I was going to contract herpes. I was happy to not have herpes, and was repulsed by the idea of ever having it.

This disdain for herpes is widely common in Western society, but it has actually only been around for a few decades. In 1975, the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome created the first antiviral medication to lessen the symptoms of the herpes simplex virus. In order to sell their medication, the company used the psychological strategy of “disease mongering”, which is convincing a demographic that a common and minor disease or illness is actually rather shameful or embarrassing to have. Essentially, Burroughs Wellcome advertised that it was okay to have “cold sores”, or the oral strain of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-1. However, they exclaimed that the genital strain of the herpes simplex virus, HSV-2, was a shameful disease that should be treated immediately. Their marketing was successful, and the stigmatization of genital herpes, and herpes in general, exists more than ever.

For years, I was what I would refer to as a “herpes hater”, until the day came that I contracted herpes. At first, I thought I had a urinary tract infection due to frequency and pain when I went to pee. I had read that UTIs were common in women, and can happen spontaneously. I had also had a sexual encounter about 5 days beforehand, and I had read that UTIs could occur from sex as well. When the pain did not subside and more symptoms occurred, I knew something else was wrong with me. Immediately having this realization, I started bawling into the arms of my roommate. At first, I was mad at the person who had “given it to me”, for thinking they had withheld information of knowing they had something. Shortly after, I was angry with myself, thinking that I was stupid and irresponsible. A million thoughts were rushing through my head, and none of them were positive. I told myself at first that even though two forms of birth control were used, that there was still a realm of risk that I had not considered. I thought I deserved it for not thinking through all the consequences. I saw myself as undesirable, and that any potential romantic partner would leave me once they found out.

After finally going to health care clinic and seeking professional help, I had received my test results two or three days later that I had contracted HSV-1, the oral strain. At first I was confused by these results, but then it immediately dawned on me that I had oral sex without any barrier, and that’s how I contracted it. I had never known anyone that actually used dental dams for oral sex, and I would have never considered that for any of my sexual relations. After this realization, a feeling occurred within me that could all be traced back to the Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceutical company. That feeling was happiness. I did not have the genital strain from having sex with an irresponsible partner. I merely contracted the oral strain of herpes from someone who is prone to cold sores, which was a lot of people. This feeling of happiness lasted a day or two, but then another realization dawned on me. It did not matter if I had the oral, genital, or some kind of mutant strain that was unknown to humans. I had herpes, and I was going to have it in my body for the rest of my life.

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Start a conversation! I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below 🙂