I contracted a lifelong disease in college, but it doesn’t define me
One in six people have HSV-2
“Hi, my name is Caitlin and I’m calling to get the results of the STD testing I had done recently.”
“Alright, just one moment…AIDS negative, HIV negative, Gonorrhea negative, Herpes type 2 positive…”
“What? What does that mean?”
“It’s a virus you are going to have for the rest of your life. If you want more information visit cdc.gov.”
How could this happen to me? ME. Sure, I’ve slipped up a few times, but who hasn’t? I usually practice safe sex unless I’m in a serious relationship and I rarely have sex with people I don’t know very well.
Contracting an STD is one of those things you know is extremely common, but you never think it will happen to you. Yet, here I am. I’m a 21-year-old woman who has contracted a disease that will affect me for the rest of my life.
When I first found out, my immediate reaction was to break down, to think I was a slut and a fool. I should’ve gotten tested earlier…I should’ve clearly asked all of my partners if they were clean before engaging in sexual activities…I should’ve been more careful.
But, as my mom always said growing up, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda, but you didn’t.” And that rang true in that moment more than ever before. I had to stop thinking about what I should have done and start thinking about what I should do now.
I started calling all of my partners from the past year. They needed to know I had herpes (HSV-2) and I personally wanted to know who I contracted it from. I know that in the end, it doesn’t matter who I contracted it from because they got it from someone, who got it from someone and so on.
I never found out who gave it to me and I probably never will. And this is something I’m still learning to cope with.
I started to reach out to my best friends, my older brother, people I knew wouldn’t think differently of me because I had an STD – people who care deeply about me. Talking through it definitely helped me process my emotions. I even found out a few of my friends also had it or knew someone who did. Because the truth is, way more people are affected by herpes and STDs in general than you’d think.
About one out of every six Americans ages 14 to 49 has HSV-2. Additionally, most carriers don’t even know they are carrying it because most people who have herpes show mild or no symptoms at all. I only had one little bump that could have easily been mistaken – and it was by the doctor – for an ingrown hair.
My next step was to set up an appointment with a gynecologist. I wanted to learn more about this virus from a real person, not a website. I felt much better after talking to her. She treated me like anyone else, like I wasn’t different at all, because I’m not. She prescribed me a daily suppressive medication which I will take for one year.
The medication combined with using condoms and not engaging in sexual activities during an outbreak decreases my chances of passing it on to almost nothing. The biggest downside of having the virus is if I choose to have kids in the future, I can never have a natural birth, which would put the child at risk of contracting the STD.
What is the point of all of this? Why would I tell the whole world I have herpes? Because, I don’t want anyone to feel like a freak or a slut or less of themselves for contracting an STD. If I can help one person by writing this, why wouldn’t I?
You contract HSV-2 by engaging in sexual activities with one person. One time with one person, that’s all it takes. It changes you, but it doesn’t change who you are. And things are going to be OK in the end, and life will go on. This is something I have to tell myself multiple times a day.
This is my life now, and since I was diagnosed I have purposefully avoided putting myself in a situation where I would have to tell a new partner about carrying HSV-2. I know that day will come, and I will approach it when I am ready.
Sex isn’t everything. I still wake up in the morning and go to school or one of my amazing jobs. I still hang out with my friends and talk on the phone with my family. I still have so much to smile about.
I know I may seem dramatic to some and crazy to others for telling my story, but I hope this encourages those of you reading to become more informed about STDs and to get tested regularly. This antiquated stigma needs to change.