A Brief Summary of One Life with Herpes and HPV
The stigma associated with having an STI and the consequent miseducation surrounding STIs really bums me out. To put it lightly. I have had HPV for almost a decade and herpes for seven years. Although now I think of the former of being of almost no consequence (a nurse told me it’s more common than the common cold, and I haven’t had any trouble with outbreaks), the actual experience around contracting it was really traumatic—having the person who had recently dumped me and also given it to me take me to the hospital for eletrode loop therapy, which is incredibly painful, and not being comfortable with telling anyone (and therefore accessing support) because of the stigma. And not to forget that my risk of cervical cancer has now increased… But dealing with herpes has been a far greater challenge.
In spite of this, over the years I have come to have a sense of “herpes pride”—not that I’m truly proud about it, but the concept really helps cultivate an alternative to shame and secrecy. I am lucky to be in a community that is open about these things, but even then I still find rejection and derision sometimes. To my mind, the greatest risk of stigma is that is lends itself perfectly to situations where STIs are not disclosed to sex partners and then carelessness can lead to transmission. I have given herpes to one person, years ago, because I was too ashamed to tell them.
I actually contracted it from someone with oral herpes when they weren’t having an outbreak at the time—I don’t think most people realize you can pass it on at all times and in all locations like that. When I got it, the same way I got HPV, I got it baaaaaad. I was very ill, but had to go to work all the same and was unable to tell anyone what was wrong. One thing worse than being terribly sick is being sick and having to lie about your situation on account of shame. I have also had doctors treat me badly—insisting I be tested, when I was telling them already that I had been diagnosed and ignoring the real issues I needed addressed. I have now been on a daily dose of Valtrex, a suppressant drug that minimizes the risk of transmission, for about 4 years. It has done as promised, but I love the idea of getting off it (on account of money and, ugh, who wants to take a pill every single day?). Still, it helped put my last partner’s mind at ease regarding transmission. My tactic now with disclosure is to tell a potential partner as soon as possible, before things have gone too far and it becomes awkward. If it’s on the table from the beginning, everybody knows what they’re dealing with. They can appreciate my honesty, ask questions, and assess the risk for themselves, and I can assess their character by their response. So far that’s what’s working for me… And I think I can actually be proud, if not of the STIs themselves (heh), then at least of how I live with them.