I am happily married, attractive, well-educated, and a member of the upper middle-class. Just looking at me, you would probably assume that I was a normal, healthy, middle-aged woman. However, I have an incurable disease. I have herpes. I have been living with it for over fifteen years now. And that’s the point. I have been LIVING with it. Although herpes is incurable, it is controllable, and it does NOT have to affect your life to any great degree.
I first realized that I had herpes not long after I was raped (for the second time in my life). I don’t know if it was the rapist who gave it to me or one of several partners that I had been with prior to the rape. I was somewhat promiscuous in my younger days.
None of the partners that I checked with after my diagnosis ever admitted to having herpes. However, they could have been either lying to me, for the second time (even in my wilder days, I would ask about sexually transmitted diseases before having sex with someone), or truly ignorant of their own infected status. It IS possible to have herpes and not realize it. In fact, it is surprisingly common for someone to have an STD and not know it. But, it doesn’t really matter who I got it from. I had it.
Strangely, the doctor that I went to when I discovered the first sore insisted that it couldn’t possibly be herpes because it was in the “wrong place”. It was on my outer labia rather than my inner labia. (In reality, although many sores on females do appear on the inner labia, it is not unusual for sores to appear on the outer labia, around the rectum, on the inner thighs or even inside the vagina.) I insisted that the doctor do a viral culture of the sore anyway, and, of course, the test was positive. I had herpes.
I do not know whether I have HSV-1 or HSV-2. I was tested so long ago, I’m not sure if they even differentiated between the strains yet. I think I remember the doctor telling me that oral herpes (cold sores) and genital herpes were same thing. Admittedly, both strains of herpes can be found in both places, but they are still different viruses. It is simply that HSV-1 shows up more frequently around the mouth, while HSV-2 is more often found near the genitals.
However, considering that this doctor tried to refuse to test me for herpes simply because my sore was not on my inner labia, he was probably not the most knowledgeable doctor when it came to herpes. He may not have even known enough to differentiate between the two strains. And back then, I didn’t know enough to wonder about different strains of herpes, I was just extremely upset that I had an incurable sexually transmitted disease.
But it was not the end of my life, not even my sex life.
After I was diagnosed, I ALWAYS warned potential partners before having sex that, even though I might not currently have an active sore, I still carried the herpes virus. I didn’t want to do to them what had been done to me. However, in accordance with what was commonly believed back then, I mistakenly told them that as long as I didn’t have an active sore, that there wasn’t much chance of them catching it. And, as far as I know, none of my partners ever did get infected.
I know now, that even when there is no visible sore, it is still possible to transmit the virus through asymptomatic shedding. It is believed that most people contract the virus through asymptomatic shedding. People with a noticeably active herpes sore are generally not interested in having sex. I know that when I have a sore, I am certainly not interested in having sex. It hurts too much.
However, even telling potential partners that I had herpes didn’t really affect my sex life. Only one guy — out of more than I care to admit — was even hesitant about having sex with me after I told him I had herpes. We still ended up having sex later that night. Admittedly, young horny males don’t always make the most logical choices. Young horny females are probably not much better.
Would I have slept with a guy who told me he had herpes? I can’t honestly say, since the situation never came up. If he were someone I was only interested in sexually, probably not. But if he were someone I truly cared about, I think I still would have slept with him.
Nowadays, I am happily married and, of course, my husband knows about my herpes. On the rare occasions when I suspect that I might be developing a sore, we simply avoid any sexual contact. We have been together almost nine years now, and he is still disease free.
Although herpes cannot be cured, it can be controlled. I am very lucky in that the infection I have is not very noticeably active; I get maybe one sore every several years. Since I have so few outbreaks, I do not take medication every day. I only take medicine when I notice a sore developing. Some people who have more active infections take daily medication in order to prevent outbreaks and reduce the risks of infecting their sexual partners.
In the past, when I noticed a sore developing, I would call my doctor to get a refill of my prescription for Valtrex (though I usually get the generic version Valacyclovir). However, after having to wait over the weekend with a painful sore once, I now just keep a bottle of medication on hand at all times. If I start taking the pills as soon as I notice even a hint of a sore, sometimes no sore ever develops. Occasionally, I wonder if what I thought might be a sore actually wasn’t, but the pills have no noticeable side effects for me, and I’d rather be safe than sorry. Also, as was mentioned earlier, even when the herpes virus is active in your system, you may have no noticeable symptoms. So even if no noticeable sore ever developed, what I felt could very well have been the virus becoming active in my system.
Unfortunately, I once developed a sore while traveling overseas. I had not had an outbreak for several years and hadn’t even thought about bringing my herpes medication with me. I had to endure several days of severe discomfort until I could get an appointment at a clinic and a local prescription. Because of that experience, I now make sure to carry my medication with me whenever I’m going to be away from home for more than a couple of days.
Even though I now have to keep certain medications in my house, and have to make sure to remember to bring them with me on trips, having herpes has NOT significantly changed my life. After being diagnosed, I was still able to do everything that I had done before being diagnosed.
Even my sex life did not significantly change. Yes, I had to have a little more in depth of a talk with potential partners before engaging in sex. But after the first couple of times, I got used to telling my partners that I had herpes, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Almost everyone I told was very understanding and even the one man who initially reacted badly eventually understood and dealt with it.
Contracting any STD is a frightening and embarrassing event. But many, many people have had or currently have an STD of some sort. Unfortunately, many people are also completely unaware that they have an STD, and that they risk infecting their partners with it during every sexual encounter. Fortunately, nowadays many STD’s can be cured with antibiotics. And even herpes, which is incurable, can be controlled with either daily medication for the more active infections, or as-needed medication for less active infections.
For herpes, there are currently three different medications that you can take:
Valtrex or its generic equivalent Valacyclovir
Famvir or its generic equivalent Famciclovir
Zovirax or its generic equivalent Acyclovir
According to several sources, approximately 1 in 4 or 5 women in America are infected with HSV-2, whereas only 1 in 8 or 9 men in America are infected with HSV-2. Sores on women can develop on the labia, in the vagina, on the cervix, around the anus, or on the thighs or buttocks. Sores on men can develop on the penis, scrotum, around the anus, or on the thighs or buttocks.
Herpes is a sexist disease. Not only do more women contract it than men, female symptoms are generally more frequent and significantly worse than male symptoms. Women are also more likely than men to have complications from herpes such as meningitis, encephalitis, and inflammation of the lower spinal cord. Also, if a pregnant woman contracts herpes or has a herpes outbreak late in her pregnancy, there can be potentially fatal consequences for her baby.
If you are afraid that you might have herpes or any other STD, get yourself tested. Even if you have no obvious symptoms of sickness, if you have had sex with more than one partner, or if your partner has had sex with other people, then it is a good idea to get tested, just to make sure you don’t have one of the sneakier STD’s. If you lead an at-risk lifestyle, it is a good idea to get tested regularly.
It is far better to know and to either cure or control the disease, than to continue in deliberate ignorance and run the significant health risks of an untreated STD. If left untreated, Syphilis, which is easily cured with antibiotics in its early stages, can cause significant damage to your heart, brain and other organs and, if left untreated, will eventually kill you. Even though herpes is in and of itself not deadly, there is evidence that those who have herpes are more likely to contract HIV than those who don’t. So knowing whether or not you have herpes or any other STD can be vitally important.
And please, if you know you have herpes (or any other STD), tell potential sexual partners about the risk of infection. It may be embarrassing to talk about having herpes before having sex, but consider how much more than embarrassing it will be when that partner comes back to confront you with a positive herpes test.
Having herpes is certainly not ideal, but few people’s lives are completely ideal. Being diagnosed with herpes does not have to ruin your life or even your sex life. It is possible to have a fulfilling life, including a fulfilling sex life while living with herpes.
For more information about herpes, check out these links: