Dating With Herpes Is My Version Of Russian Roulette

There's nothing worse than waiting for your OB/GYN to examine you.

Especially if you have a hankering suspicion that something is wrong.

I had extreme pain while urinating for several days. All of my friends told me to write it off as a UTI and yeast infection.

"There's no need to go to the doctor. You've only been having sex with Evan for 2 years. You've never had sex outside of relationships. You're paranoid, you're fine."

Being a raised by a woman who was a huge advocate for sexual health, (Mom admitted to me that she may have gotten HPV when she was in her early 20's) I knew that STI's don't discriminate. Viruses don't know whether or not you're being intimate with a boyfriend, or a one night stand. I made an appointment to get checked by my OB/GYN. In the initial appointment, she had saw a sore. Only one. It looked like a nick from shaving. She requested a herpes test. As progressive as I thought I was, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach.

"You don't think I have herpes, do you?"

The doctor looked up from my examining my vulva to look at me.

"No," she smiled. "If you do, it's unlike any case I've seen. I think you have a yeast infection with a UTI that needs prescription treatment."

I breathed a sigh of relief. At every annual, I got tested for both HSV-1 and HSV-2. I was negative for both viruses (which is very unusual, most humans have HSV-1) at the time of my last test.

On my way to a baseball game, I received a phone call that would change my life.

"Hello, swansinbrugesaremything? This is the Doctor's office. We're calling to let you know that your test for HSV-2 came back positive."

When I hung up the phone, I immediately burst into tears. It turns out that Evan had a previous history of taking Valtrex, having sex with women, and not revealing his HSV-2 positive status. I know, for a fact, that he was dishonest in regards to his HSV-2 to the partner he had after me.

"My life is over," I uttered, in between sobs. I was frustrated. I was furiously angry. Herpes didn't happen to girls like me, or so I thought.

How wrong I was. As this graphic from the CDC illustrates, 1 in 6 people have herpes in the United States. 1 in 2 people that are sexually active before the age of 25 will obtain a STD without knowing it. All STI's are treatable. Most are curable.

Herpes has no cure.

Herpes was not in medical textbooks until after the 1970's. Prior to a pharmaceutical company developing a drug to treat outbreaks, herpes was simply a virus that humans received, and was viewed no differently than a cold. That being said, when marketing departments for the pharmaceutical companies were charged with making a campaign for the drug, they chose to fear-monger. Herpes makes you dirty. Herpes makes you an "other." Because of this, herpes is scary to most adults in this country that don't understand it.

My friend who is a MD told me that unless you contract the virus while pregnant, there are no medical consequences to a HSV-2 infection. That being said, dating while having herpes is my own equivalent of Russian roulette.

Unlike Evan, I disclose my status to every potential partner that I have. The responses I receive back vary. One the whole, I'd say that the majority of men stop seeing or speaking to me after I tell them.

One gentleman said that he had to stop seeing me. I said that was fine, and that I respected his preference.

"Choosing not to date someone with a lifelong STD is not a preference, but, nice try," he sneered back at me.

I cried the entire subway ride home.

I felt like a stranger in my own body for a very, very, long time. The shame was visceral. Prostrating yourself to a partner, while explaining the condition (which is innocuous) is when I feel most vulnerable. To be shot down because of this virus, which I received because someone was dishonest to me, shakes me to my core. Once the news is disclosed, I've pulled the trigger. All I can hope for is an empty chamber.

But sometimes, fortune smiles upon me.

I had consensual sex last night with a man who is brilliant, handsome, kind, and funny.

Guess what?

He has herpes too.

That being said, I've also had healthy and happy relationships in which I've had herpes, and my partners did not (and still don't) have the virus.

I hope that one day, the stigma against this virus vanishes. Until then, I'll continue to disclose my status, spin the chamber, and hope for the best.


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