I am writing this and speaking openly about some personal issues in the hopes that anyone suffering from the same, similar, or worse, can find comfort in realizing they are not alone, gain strength from understanding these issues, and attain a more positive outlook on dealing with STD’s and STI’s. My goal in communicating this is not only to help those who know these feelings of guilt, depression, and lowered self-esteem, but also to educate those who continue the stigma that having an STI or an STD makes you dirty, or a slut, or any less desirable.
NOW. LET. ME. LEARN. YOU. A. THING…
How many people have genital herpes?
- About one out of five people in the United States has genital herpes.
- That’s more than 50 million people in the United States who have genital herpes.
- 85% of people with genital herpes don’t know they have it.
- That’s 42 million Americans who are unaware they have genital herpes.
- Genital herpes is the most prevalent viral STD.
Genital herpes virus is passed from one person to another through sexual contact. This happens even if the person with the virus doesn’t have symptoms or signs of infection.
Once the virus enters through the skin, it travels along nerve paths. It may become dormant (inactive) in the nerves and remain there indefinitely.
From time to time, the virus may become active. When that happens, the virus travels back along the nerve path to the surface of the skin, where additional virus is shed.
At this point the virus may cause an outbreak of symptoms. Or it may remain undetected.
In either case, the active virus is easily passed from one partner to another through sexual contact. Even wearing a condom may not protect the uninfected partner. The virus can be present on skin that remains uncovered.
The number of recurrences or outbreaks a person can have may vary.
What Are the Symptoms of Genital Herpes?
Even though you can still pass the infection, you may never notice symptoms from an HSV infection. On the other hand, you might notice symptoms within a few days to a couple of weeks after the initial contact. Or, you might not have an initial outbreak of symptoms until months or even years after becoming infected.
When symptoms occur soon after a person is infected, they tend to be severe. They may start as small blisters that eventually break open and produce raw, painful sores that scab and heal over within a few weeks. The blisters and sores may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms with fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Any of the following symptoms of a genital HSV infection can occur in a man or a woman:
- Cracked, raw, or red areas around your genitals without pain, itching, or tingling
- Itching or tingling around your genitals or your anal region
- Small blisters that break open and cause painful sores. These may be on or around your genitals (penis or vagina) or on your buttocks, thighs, or rectal area. More rarely, blisters may occur inside the urethra — the tube urine passes through on its way out of your body.
- Pain from urine passing over the sores — this is especially a problem in women.
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue
Most people with genital herpes will never have any symptoms. In general, if symptoms are going to appear, they will show up within two weeks of the initial time of infection. The first outbreak is usually the worst, and many people who experience symptoms will do so only once. For most others, the severity and frequency of symptoms will decrease over time.
Hearing from your doctor that you have a herpes genital infection can be extremely stressful. It’s not uncommon for people to get a herpes diagnosis and panic that they will never be able to date or have sex again. Fortunately, that isn’t true. Herpes doesn’t have to be the end of your sex life. You may end up changing the way you talk and think about sex, but just because you have a herpes genital infection doesn’t mean you need to give up on life.
The most important thing to do after being diagnosed with a herpes genital infection is to learn everything you can about herpes so that you understand what is going on in your body. Then, if after reading everything you can about the virus you’re still finding yourself unable to cope, don’t feel hesitant about seeking professional help. Herpes is just a virus, but it’s a highly stigmatized one, that can be hard to handle emotionally. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to reach out to someone who will listen without judgment and with understanding.
There is no cure for genital herpes, no matter what some may claim, but it can be treated. Anti-viral medications can be used to shorten the duration of outbreaks and reduce their frequency. For individuals with frequent outbreaks, or uninfected partners, daily suppressive therapy may be recommended. In this case, anti-viral medication would be taken constantly to reduce the risk of not only symptoms but transmission. However, even when suppressive therapy is entirely effective at eliminating an infected person’s outbreaks, he still may be able to transmit the herpes virus to a partner.
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"We are fuckin’ awesome, and that will never change."
Living with Herpes
Genital herpes is a frightening diagnosis for many people. Society may have exposed them to messages suggesting that people with herpes genital infections are dirty or somehow flawed, and it is tempting to lash out and look for someone to blame. However, genital herpes is just a disease like any other — a disease, in fact, that affects approximately one in five Americans. And, since it’s incurable, it’s something that they end up having to live with, and deal with for many years. Fortunately, you can do many things to make living with herpes easier.
I HAVE HPV. I HAD A MISCARRIAGE. I HAD CERVICAL CANCER. I HAD AN ABORTION LATE IN MY PREGNANCY DUE TO HEALTH ISSUES. I HAVE HERPES.
None of these things are easy to deal with but herpes is by far the most socially stigmatized.
I AM ALSO AN AWESOME HUMAN BEING, AND AM LIVING AN INCREDIBLE LIFE. I AM ENGAGED TO MY BEST FRIEND AND THE LOVE OF MY LIFE. DON’T EVER LET ANYONE MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE HAVING HERPES MAKES YOU UNDESERVING OF ANYTHING, BECAUSE IT’S A VIRUS, AND CHANCES ARE THEY HAVE IT TOO AND DON’T EVEN KNOW IT.
One more thing, and this may be more important than anything, don’t let you make yourself feel like you are underserving of anything. Especially love.