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September 17, 2018 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Herpes: You’ve Probably Got it. But That’s Okay

CW: gross descriptions
*Names and identifying details have been changed for privacy.
After ending an intense two-year relationship late last year, being on Tinder and drinking a bottle of wine a night became the usual. Not because I was looking for a rebound or trying to fill a void, but because I was FINALLY single. As time progressed, I spent a majority of any day and night either having sex or thinking about it. Both Tinder and Bumble fuelled my habit of working my daily routine to fit around my “sex schedule” — my number one and only hobby.
Earlier this year Tinder seemed to slow down. I was seeing this guy Andreas*, who I met through Bumble, a little more regularly. He was the ultimate guy you’d come across on dating app, the one you’d see and assume the profile was a catfish. Danish, blonde, and obviously good looking; he lived by himself in a brand new studio apartment complex in Mt Vic. The inside looked like a catalogue display from Ikea. He was (almost) the best deal ever. So I began to lose interest in keeping up the hype of getting new dick. Yet, a new opportunity presented itself. Another guy, let’s call him Adam, from my history courses at uni, decided to hit me up after lab one day with a pretty sweet fuck buddy offer. He’s annoyingly vocal, always trying to break the ice with strangers in class (no fucking way I want to talk to strangers in lectures), so I tried to avoid him for as long as I could, but he managed to catch a conversation with me before class one day and from then onwards, my chatterbox side was released. Cue to ending up at my flat where that night was sorted.

I always had the STI talk with prospective partners. I was in constant fear of STIs, and I was terrified of herpes in particular. I first learnt of herpes as a teenager — not about the symptoms, or how youcontracted it, just that it was disgusting and stayed with you forever. I was told that people who contracted herpes were dirty and “deserved it”.
I woke up one Thursday with insane back pain, and a fever. Immediately, I called Student Health to talk to a nurse, who booked me in to see a doctor later that day. I was told by the doctor that my pain would clear up, and given a doctor’s certificate to excuse myself from work. As someone with multiple deadlines for assignments and tests, the doctor’s treatment of me was extremely disappointing. I had a couple of days off work, but I only got worse. My throat was sore and it was hard to swallow liquids. This may be TMI but when I opened my mouth and looked in the mirror, there was all this green pus on my tonsils and lining the back of my throat. I immediately thought “fuck, this is it, I have strep throat again. Would it be as bad as the last time?” Plus, a shitty ingrown hair down on my labia was really starting to fucking annoy me. I felt like crying, but the lack of energy from all the pain put the pin in that. I called up Student Health again and managed to get a last minute appointment for the following day.
The morning leading up to the appointment I noticed that my ingrown hair seemed a little weird. The white on the sore I had assumed was pus looked like an ulcer, one you’d get on the inside of you lip when sick. My first thought was that I had herpes, because it terrifies me the most, but I didn’t want to admit to myself that it was possible. I had been really careful with my sexual partners and didn’t believe that either one could have lied about having an STI. Then again, I had no idea what herpes looks like.

When I finally googled “vaginal ulcers” and the top result was “genital herpes”, I felt somewhat close to nothing, except thinking that I had to deal with it. It wasn’t until the doctor, after looking at them and verbally confirming to me I had herpes, that I felt something more. I was in tears. I was exhausted. I felt almost defeated by all the pain. I was frustrated: I now had to live with fucking herpes. I thought, “I’m so fucking low”. I was stupid enough to contract it, it was my fault, and now no one would want to go near me.

Feelings of disappointment in myself quickly turned to anger towards Andreas and Adam. Why the absolute fuck would either one, not maybe let me know they got cold sores? I drafted two separate texts, each sensitive to the person, considering Andreas is a 28 year old full-time government worker, and Adam, a 21 year old first year student. Andreas’s response indicated he was very supportive for me and aware of how HSV-1 transmits but stated that no, he didn’t get cold sores. He stopped replying a few texts in and I haven’t heard from him since. I was a little disappointed at first, but took it as his European mentality to not face difficulties such as this.
Adam on the other hand, well this was an interesting discussion. He was very understanding and actually a good sport about it, but apparently he is a daft as a doorknob. The lad expressed that he didn’t get cold sores but had immediate family members that do. I found this information a little shady, as if he was holding off just admitting that he gets cold sores. My head turned when Adam happily explained he has genital warts, but not cold sores. Not that genital warts was the topic of discussion, but he never told me when we first had sex. If Adam was so care free to leave that out while picking apart my sexual health, what else was he keeping from me? The upshot is, he ended up asking questions about what herpes looks like and what other symptoms present — turns out he contracted HSV-1 himself. He was as uneducated about herpes as I was. When the doctor explained that once I had taken the medication and the sores disappeared I shouldn’t have to really be concerned with it again, I was surprised. It’s funny because I wasn’t shocked that the doctor told me I had herpes, but because she said that the virus wasn’t a big deal.
The New Zealand Herpes Foundation explains that statistically, 1 in 3 people in NZ have the herpes simplex virus. Isn’t that crazy? And you know what else? Herpes can be passed on when there are no symptoms present. Around 80% of people infected with genital herpes don’t know they have the virus, due to having very mild symptoms or none at all.
There is an effective treatment that can not only calm symptoms, but prevent recurrences and reduce the transmission of infection. Luckily for me, I contracted type 1 (HSV-1) of the herpes simplex virus. That’s the cold sore virus, which can be transmitted to the genitals during oral sex. With HSV-1, I would most likely only have a breakout of sores once and then it’s not likely to return. In comparison, HSV-2, genital herpes, is a little more intense, repetitive, but still easily manageable. Herpes is shit; any disturbance to the body is shit. But it’s surprisingly not that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things. I wish sex education classes in high school had taught me this. All I remember was learning the anatomy of my vagina and putting a condom on a banana.

Herpes gave me the perfect opportunity to make my Tinder a little more exciting. While healing, I changed my bio to “basic af… oh and I have herpes.” just to see what would happen. Surprisingly, it made for a shit ton of responses. Many guys thought I was joking, but most were quite positive when they learned that I wasn’t. In the first week I had one guy drive over to bring me snacks at 1am while I was unwell. I ended up sleeping with him once I was healthy again, so I assume he didn’t care about the infection after all. Others thought it was a turn on and a few even wanted to call me a slut. I stood my ground to ones that wanted to say “you’re now fucked”. I assume they meant my vagina but then again, only ill informed boys would talk to a woman that way when in regards to sexual health. Those men ain’t shit.
If you by chance contract the herpes simplex virus or already have it, how you view yourself sexually is up to you, but don’t feel like you need to see yourself as anything less than you were before. The fact that this stigma around herpes exists doesn’t make logical sense to me. Why did I view a common as fuck STI so negatively in the first place? As the New Zealand Herpes Foundation expresses, “The emotional impact of being diagnosed with genital herpes is often much worse than the condition and it doesn’t deserve the upset it causes”. That was true for me at first, but once I took a moment to listen to my doctor and question my feelings, I didn’t give a shit anymore. I can’t express enough how easy it is to maintain sexual health when you stop thinking of it as a taboo. In the end, men ain’t shit and herpes is so overhyped. Fuck, when’s the hardcore STI gonna hit because fucking come at me (obviously a joke I would very much like to be healthy from now on).


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