The reality of herpes is that it isn’t that big of a deal.
The most painful aspect of having herpes is the stigma that comes with it.
I had started seeing someone that was absolutely wonderful.
We were both falling hard.
Maybe the most natural, free love I had experienced since my first love in college.
It was a sunny, summer Saturday and we were stealing a make out session in his car in the middle of the day in the parking lot of park surrounded by tall green trees.
I was sitting on his lap and I felt his whole body suddenly tense up as he said…
“I need to tell you something.”
My stomach dropped out because it’s always scary to hear those words from someone you love.
Then he confided that he was herpes positive.
I felt him bracing for my response.
This normally confident, funny, handsome, intelligent man sat before me completely deflated with fear and worry.
Ashamed to be in this situation at all.
Afraid of what I would think, say, and do.
Would I say I didn’t want to date him?
What would I think of him?
How would I react?
Fortunately, one of my friends had dated a herpes+ person the year before and I had helped her do the research to understand what it meant to be sexually active with someone who who was herpes+ and how to mitigate risks. So I was informed enough to know that it wasn’t actually that big of a deal.
“That doesn’t make me want to explore this any less.” I said.
And his face broke into a massive grin that could have lit the sky on fire and he rushed in to kiss me again passionately.
There were more conversations to follow. He shared with me the number of breakouts he had experienced and the lifestyle choices he had committed to to reduce his risk of outbreak.
He answered all my questions patiently and when he didn’t know the answer to something, we looked it up together.
We saw a sex positive doctor together, who helped me understand that – yes, there is always a risk – but that it didn’t much outweigh the risk of having sex with anyone else (see stats below) and that there were mitigating steps we could take.
Which we did.
We dated for 3 years.
And I had lot’s of fun, “unprotected” sex with my partner… and did not get herpes.
Hands down the worst part about having herpes is disclosure… not the actual reality of having the virus.
In sexually active adults over 35yo, it’s estimated that MORE THAN 1 in 3 people has the antibodies for having been exposed to it (by medical standards/protocols this means “you have it” even if you never have an outbreak. This has/doesn’t have binary doesn’t apply very well, and isn’t super helpful)
In sexually active people over the age of 14yo, it’s estimated that 1 in 6 people carries the antibodies (aka “has it”).
Most STI screenings don’t even test for it because of how common it is and because doctors have concluded that the “mental anguish” of a positive test result is far worse and far outweighs the actual physical experience.
I can’t imagine having missed out on that love because of a stigma created by anti-sex churches in the 1970s.
So, when I recently had a client come to me who was bereft with worry because a new (super promising) person in her life disclosed that they were herpes+, I wanted to say my piece!
Unlike me, she has not had healthy exposure to the real, non-stigmatized world of what that means.
This is me taking a stand for ending the stigma around herpes by not only sharing my experience, but the stories of many people in my community who volunteered to contribute theirs.
The following screenshots are just a few of the stories I’ve received in response to this discussion. (Thanks to everyone who contributed for shedding light on something so often shrouded in fear and worst case scenarios!)