To My Friend with Genital Herpes
June 10th, 2014
Last week, a very close friend confided in me. She had suffered from painful itching, went to see a doctor and was hit with a diagnosis of genital herpes. How did she feel? Let’s just say it was a gentle blend of sheer panic and “what the hell? How is this possible?” and especially the shame of now having an incurable STD.
My first reaction? Not great… I knew nothing about it and I had not very positive prejudices about this condition. To make myself feel better, I did a ton of research on the Internet and I found out a lot of very interesting facts and statistics that gave me the knowledge to be able to answer her (you) today.
You wonder who lied to you about his herpes test, how you got it when you were always protected or if you contracted it THAT ONE time when you had unprotected sex or the condom broke?
STOP! First of all, most of the standard tests don’t even check for herpes! That means that you can be a carrier of herpes without even knowing it. Second, you can be a carrier without ever having an attack. So without having any early signs, the carrier can really truly be unaware and be acting in good faith. Third, the condom doesn’t provide 100% protection against herpes. We know condoms aren’t 100% foolproof. But because herpes appears on the skin, unfortunately it can be transmitted even more easily than other STDs by rubbing the area in question (even outside an area with a flare-up/attack). Ah yes! I forgot. Oral herpes can also become genital (and vice-versa) when sexual relations bring the mouth in contact with the genitals. So herpes in the corner of the mouth isn’t innocent!
You wonder what you could have done to be so lucky (not exactly!) to have come across ONE person who BY CHANCE, was infected?
In 2003, about 16% of the global population between 15 and 49 years of age was listed as being infected with genital herpes (see the World Health Organization publication). Not 1.6%. 16%! Other more recent sources even quote about 20%. Genital herpes is reeeeeaaaaally much more widespread than we thought. Start with the principle that it is unavoidable and don’t think about why or how. And, you never know, perhaps you are part of the small percentage of the population who was born with it. Basically, there’s no point crying over the past; you need to move forward!
What do you have to look forward to? You are already panicking about how you are going to broach this “topic” with your future partners!
True, speaking about your period, menstrual flow and tampons are small potatoes compared to genital herpes. No one’s arguing that. You want proof? Are you not trying to hide the screen of your phone or computer from nosy onlookers as you read this article? Out of fear of what your bud/couch/office neighbour might think or… assume? Right now, we (society in general) talk about herpes like it’s a kind of sentence: “You have herpes? You must be sleeping with anything that moves!” But it’s really the lack of information and prejudices about this STD that make people have this kind of reaction. Of course it’s going to be embarrassing to explain. Especially on a first date. No kidding! And if he (or she) acts like an idiot, well, he or she wasn’t worth it anyway. Still not convinced? There are even specialized dating sites for people living with an STD!
You stress about the idea of having repeated outbreaks, knowing they’re so painful?
It’s very understandable. However, what I can tell you is that in my research, I found many sources (here and there) indicating that most recurrences (attacks) happen within the year following the first episode. So you especially need to keep a close watch on the first 12 months, but after that things should really calm down!
So, despite all the precautions we take, it can happen. It sucks but that that’s life. Some things are simply beyond our control. However, what we CAN control is how we, as friends, family and society, react. To avoid those “Whoa! You got herpes! So gross!!” and to lift the spirits of people like my friend, share this article!
Do you have other reassuring words or positive stories for my friend?