• Fri, Dec 9 2011

I’m Mostly Proud Of How I Dealt With My Herpes Diagnosis

Jennifer’s post earlier today about an xojane writer who had sex with people knowing that she might be giving them herpes made me feel compelled to chime in. Because she recognizes the stupidity of her actions and has altered her behavior as a result, I’m not going to ream her out like I did Cat Marnell. However, I will take this opportunity to try to understand what might lead a person to act this way, and also to tell you about my own experience with herpes.

I’ve thought about writing this post for a long time, but I’ve always decided against it in the past, because people judge you like crazy when you admit you’ve contracted an STD. But you know what? That’s never going to change if people keep treating it like some kind of terrible secret that would render them social pariahs if anyone found out. Part of why Jennifer Lemons behaved the way she did is because there’s such a huge social stigma attached to herpes that people would rather expose a partner to the virus than tell them they have it, or even that they might have it. And that’s just fucking sad.

I found out about my herpes when I went for a regular round of comprehensive STD testing and it came up in a blood test. Much like the test for H.I.V., the herpes blood test tests for the presence of antibodies in your bloodstream. A positive test for herpes II meant that at some point in time, I’d “come across” the virus and my body had made antibodies. (The doctor’s words, not mine. It’s morbidly funny to imagine myself “coming across” the herpes virus like I’d come across a quote I like in a book.) Whether or not I actually “have” it is somewhat subjective. I have antibodies for it, and I could potentially have an outbreak, but many people who’ve been exposed to it never develop symptoms.

I was absolutely shocked. I’d never had any symptoms (still haven’t), and I’d had a few STD tests since the last time I’d screwed up and had unprotected sex. (You can still get it if you use protection, but the chances are lower.) The reason for this, the doc explained, was that they’d just started doing the herpes blood test on healthy people as part of their regular panel. Up until then, they’d only been using it to confirm a diagnosis in people who’d had outbreaks. (Find out if your doctor does this as part of their regular STD panel; if they don’t, you can request it.)

She explained to me that it’s easier for men to give the virus to women than vice versa, and also that the periods of highest contagion were right before, during, or after an outbreak. She said up to a third of everyone has been exposed to the virus by the time they’re 30. When asymptomatic, the chances of me passing it along were (and are) relatively low. That didn’t stop me from feeling like an evil, diseased whore for ever having slept with anyone, ever.

The good news was that, as STDs go, the virus isn’t too dangerous. You have to monitor it carefully if you’re pregnant, because you can pass it onto your baby during vaginal birth if you’re having an outbreak, but otherwise, the worst it can do is give you nasty blisters, which can be suppressed in most cases with modern medicine.

The test couldn’t determine when I’d been exposed to the virus; I briefly considered doing a Michael Scott style tour of everyone I’d ever slept with to tell them, and also to try to figure out which bastard had given it to me. But ultimately, I decided my asymptomatic herpes was mainly something to be discussed with the guy I was currently dating. (Should I have acted differently? Perhaps.) I told him exactly what the doctor had told me, and we discussed rates of infection and what could be done about it. It might be the most grown up thing I’ve ever done. To his credit, he appreciated my honesty and handled it really well; this was just one more thing that made me think he was someone worth keeping around.

If this story doesn’t sound very dramatic, it’s because it’s not. The most dramatic thing I’ve experienced as a result of this test is the fear of being judged by people if anyone found out. But I think it’s worth whatever damage this will do to my reputation as a lady to make the subject less terrifying for people. Fear and shame lead to fewer people getting tested, fewer people verifying their diagnoses (like the xojane writer), and fewer people discussing their results with their partners. So basically, fear and shame lead to more herpes. And while it’s not the worst thing in the world, I want people to avoid getting it if they can. [tagbox tag="STDs"]

And that’s why I’m about to hit “publish” on the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever written. And that’s saying something.

Share This Post:
  • sascha

    thanks for posting–you’re right, the only way to reduce the stigma will be to talk about having herpes and other std’s publicly, as well as to have mature conversations about them with partners. i appreciate you speaking up.

  • Nancy

    I only judge you to be brave and mature. Good for you! You’re amazing!

  • boomer

    we need articles like this. honest and useful and relatable. it shouldn’t hold the stigma it has…

  • Rachel

    I also have asymptomatic herpes.
    Thank you for helping me say it out loud!

  • Steve P

    Your courage and honesty are commendable. Only when we bring STD’s out of the closet, as you have done, will the society be able to deal in a productive way with this issue. Once again you are being the change that you want to see. Keep up the good work!

  • Jennifer Wright

    I also judge you to be totally mature and responsible about this, and you know I am a judgmental harpy! Difficult situation well handled, grown-up!

  • Katrina

    This was actually educational for me. I (a) had no idea that there was a blood test for herpes. I get checked religiously ever since a friend was exposed to HIV, but my doctor has never mentioned the availability of such a test! I’ll ask next time. (B) I never knew you could have asymptomatic herpes. Scary to think I might be unknowingly spreading an STD. (Cue Catholic Guilt in 3, 2…) I thought if you had it you’d know from the outbreak.
    I’ll be forwarding this to the ol’ boyfriend since we’ve been seriously discussing marriage and children for the last few months. We’ll both be adding this test to our check ups!
    Thank you!

  • Eileen

    This is great. I’m going to give xojane the benefit of the doubt and say that this was the point they wanted to get out, but your article is better since you acted like an adult about the whole thing. Here’s hoping you stay asymptomatic!

  • sally

    Thank you for being brave

  • Lisa

    I salute you!

    I take l-lysine to help prevent recurring cold sores and obvs herpes is not the same thing but perhaps if you had problems, give it a try.

  • Dr. Kelly

    Koodos to you for putting your story out there! If we can start talking about herpes and other topics of sex in a healthy manor, the stigma would vanish. If you are interested in other woman’s stories with herpes check out http://www.talkaboutherpes.com The stories help women to realize that they are not alone, nor are they lepers.

  • Mel

    Thank you SO much for posting your story. I remember when I had my first outbreak/found out I had HSV-2… I was depressed for about two months while I did research and participate in a Herpes forum.

    At any rate, I now think about the virus as you’ve described it – an inconvenience. I still get somewhat angry if I have any minor symptoms, but it could be much worse, right?

  • Avodah

    Jamie, why don’t you write more about the STDs you have an less political commentary? It seems you have much more personal experience and expertise with this subject.

  • Nick

    This company provides confidential, convenient and rapid STD testing
    You can call Toll-Free:
    1-888-317-6087
    Mon-Sun: 7:00 am to 10:00 pm (all times Central)

    Cheers and good luck :)

  • MR

    Yeah it’s good you stuck your neck out, Jamie. I always use a condom whenever I engage in casual sex. But herpes has always been one of the wild cards. Since AIDS consciousness in the late ’80s and the summer I spent in Brasil, I’ve always tried to know something about my sex partner, before I sleep with her – which truthfully doesn’t necessarily do very much to protect you.

  • skylover

    Herpes is one of the most misunderstood std’s out there. The simple truth is that 90% of the adult population has it but doesn’t realize it. If you ever get a fever blister you have herpes. The only difference between mouth herpes and the other kind is simply where it’s located. It’s the same virus, resting at the back of your brain untill something triggers it and you get an outbreak. There is no difference in oral herpes and the other kind, just the location, and there is no cure for herpes, though drugs such as Valtrax can stop an ourbreak once you get one. Odds are these wrestlers already had the virus and why the big to do here is beyond me. You may know more about herpes on the dating and support site POZloving. Good luck to you all!

  • Maggie

    Jamie, I can’t tell you how awesome it is that you wrote this article. I found out last summer that I had Herpes 2, and at first I was devastated until my Doctor gave me the facts: Though it is classified as an STD, there are a myriad of ways to contract Herpes without any sexual contact; it can be as simple as kissing someone with a cold sore. And, though there is no cure for it as of yet, you can go your entire life without having more than one outbreak. (Obviously you should still use protection, that’s a given in any situation.) There is so much stigma attached to it that I haven’t told many people, because I think that they will judge me or think I’m a “slut.” I know I’m not a “slut” in any way, I just happened to be the right combo of uninformed and unlucky and contract Herpes, and this article helps me feel a lot more okay with that. Yes I get really bummed out if I have any symptoms or flare-ups, but it doesn’t stop me from being who I am. Thanks Jamie, you go girl!

  • andrea dunlop

    Bravo for sharing this. Due to a lab mix-up, I was once told I had herpes (I don’t). I freaked out initially but then after the doctor explained to me many of the things you mention in this article (as well as telling me about some new studies that show that it may not be able to be spread at all by people who have never had an outbreak) I ended up wondering why there was such a huge stigma about something that is not a big deal at ALL health-wise. I ended up being sort of grateful for the mix-up because it gave me a chance to get educated about something that is very, very common. And if I ever have a partner in the future who has to deliver this news, I know enough to be all ‘meh. Just remember to take your Valtrex’.

  • chloe10232

    I myself have had genital herpes for several years. Way back when, I felt like I had to
    navigate the waters all by myself.I personally have found peace and happiness
    at HerpesLove.net .
    If you haven’t, you will. Ignorance and denial is not the solution. Be
    informed… learn the truth…