Hi, my name is Laureen and I discovered to have HSV 2 aka genital herpes about a couple years ago. I am not a blogger, nor a writer. But in a world where a click has the power to bridge distances, generations and cultures, I vouched for blogs as the best way to convey my experiences to anyone who could find them useful for theirs.
I am 28, born in France and raised in Italy. I moved to NYC in 2010 and when I had my first outbreak a few years later, my initial reaction and feeling was no different than most of the ones you can read on the internet – deep shame, fear and pain. With very little knowledge about HSV 2, I assumed the partner whom I was seeing exclusively at the time (let’s call him Joachim) passed it on to me and it was without hesitation or worry that I let him know of my newly found condition. He got tested and despite resulting negative, he carried on being genuinely concerned for me until our relationship ended for other unrelated reasons. Had I never shared this with him, I would probably think that no man could ever react with such equanimity. But back then, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I might not be as lucky with others I would have later on welcomed in my heart and in my bed.
Fast forward to near present. As herpes is a medically incurable virus that sticks with you all your life, I learned pretty quickly how to cope with occasional outbreaks and catch symptoms early enough to limit damages. For non herpes reader, it is as easy and simple as putting an ointment a couple times a day on the specific area where the blister is slowly forming. (Side note, how can medication for a virus that is likely to cause recurrent outbreaks for life cost as much as $380, when it is estimated that one out of six people between 14 and 49 have HSV 2??? Pure. Nonsense.).
But what I hadn’t learned was how to emotionally and psychologically cope with the perception people have of my occasional outbreaks. I’ve always kept it to myself, and not even my mom with whom I’m very close had been informed of the unfortunate addition to the body she once carefully bore for 9 months. In my head, the six feet tall freckled woman I am could never tarnish her image with this disgrace…
It is only when I disclosed that I had herpes to a partner I was seeing 6 months ago (I hadn’t dated anyone seriously since breaking up with Joachim) that the stigma associated to herpes really hit me for the first time. I say the first time because there’s a difference in inflicting that stigma upon yourself – when it’s a silent conversation from me to me, and when someone else inflicts it on you – when someone who’s seen your ins and outs looks at you as for the very first time. I panicked, and thought I was out of my mind to have even let him put his hands on places my outbreaks did and could occupy. Sexual intercourses ideally presuppose a two-way responsibility, where each party involved looks out for him/herself. Yet I felt like I betrayed him, like I was responsible for his assumption that I was perfectly medically healthy although we had never had any conversation about it. If there was such a thing as a megaphone for the mind, you could have heard thoughts like “No one will ever want to date me anymore, who would be willing to risk to catch that?”; “This is the first time I’m encountering rejection for herpes, but it is only the beginning. I’ll have to go through this humiliating conversation for the rest of my life”; “I should just stop dating, at least I won’t have to live with the permanent doubt of contaminating others”.
This is the moment where I stop my story and thank whoever there is to thank for living this experience in the age of the internet. Had I been through this 20 years ago, the length of the bible would have nothing on the list of thoughts I previously stated. I would still be misinformed, deeply hurt and buried in shame. Instead, my best friend Google showed me in no time I’d better calm the f*** down as I was far from being the only one with HSV 2, but mostly that the stigma was torturing many more victims than myself.
Since then, I’ve gathered a ton of information including:
1 woman in 4 has genital herpes (webmd)
1 man in 5 has genital herpes (webmd)
45 million Americans 12 yrs old and older have genital herpes (webmd)
90% of Americans who have it (that’s 42 million Americans!) don’t know they have it (webmd)
Condoms do not guarantee protection against HSV 1 and 2 (cdc.org)
Contamination can happen even when symptoms are not present (cdc.org)
What I have not found information on:
A valuable reason why herpes is not screened as part of the general STI test
As George Bernard Shaw once said “beware of false knowledge, it is more dangerous than ignorance”. If amongst the 90% of people who don’t know they have it some were aware of their condition, more people would take the time to dig deeper than the stigma they perpetuate and get to the bottom of what there is to know about herpes. Consequently, the more people informed the more open and honest the conversation would be around herpes. Yes it is a virus you carry for life, but by all means, you shouldn’t let it take the life out of you.
So, taking a step back together:
When you have HSV 2, you have the virus 365 days a year.
But outbreaks? On average 4-5 times a year. Likely, but not surely for life.
Some years, there will be more.
Some years, there will be less.
It depends on your lifestyle and your immune system.
But there are a whole lot of other things that you get 4-5 times a year.
Which your lifestyle and immune system influence a great deal too.
Colds in the winter.
Diarrhea when eating bad food.
Allergies in the spring.
Rashes or pimples when you’re stressed.
Bloating when eating food your digestive system struggles with.
So what’s actually different about this skin condition?
That you have it for life?
But haven’t you had colds pretty much every year since you can remember?
And aren’t you likely to have colds in the upcoming winters you’ll spend in cold places?
Or skin condition?
So what s actually different about THIS skin condition?
That it causes periodical discomfort in an inconvenient place?
But at least when it happens, you’re the only one to know.
And gents, have you never ever experienced discomfort in that inconvenient place?
And ladies, have you never experienced discomfort in that inconvenient place before?
Again, what’s actually different about THIS skin condition?
That you can contaminate others?
You should be as careful about contaminating others with herpes as you are with colds.
Although one is for life and the other is not, they are both likely to occur 4-5 times a year.
There is obviously a lot of sarcasm in these lines, but there is also a lot of truth. I do not celebrate nor underestimate having herpes, colds or any kind of condition that causes discomfort. But I want people to think about herpes as part of other inconveniences that one experiences on their body. Because that’s what it is, and that’s how it should be talked about. This is as much about me as it is about millions of people who have HSV 2 and felt ashamed of it for wrong reasons. It’s about millions of people who are unaware that their reactions provoked hurt and emotional trauma in people affected by HSV 2. Everybody has things that make them attractive, and everybody has things that make them unattractive. HSV 2 is one of the latter for me, and if I can’t do anything to get rid of it, my only option is to embrace and express it along with all the other things that make me the not so perfect woman I am ultimately happy to be.
Anyone, feel free to comment or DM me. I speak French and Italian in addition to English. I am not a doctor and won’t be able to answer specific medical questions but this is a two way conversation and I am very interested in learning from people who have experienced similar situations, whether they have HSV 2 or not. Also, for more HSV 2 related experiences, I have recently discovered Ella Dawson’s blog “my business is generally pleasurable” and would recommend anyone to visit it.