I had barely finished my first semester of college when I found out I had herpes. A high school friend and I wound up taking our
friendship a little further, and 20 seconds into the act that would change my
life forever, he stopped.
My friend said I was too much like a sister, and he couldn't continue. Then
he left. I worried about how that incident would affect our friendship. Little
did I know my worries would extend far beyond that concern.
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Less than a week later, I found myself in excruciating pain. It hurt to
walk, and I couldn't use soap anywhere near my genital area. I knew enough
about sexually transmitted diseases to know that I had herpes, but I didn't
know exactly what to do.
As I sat in the college health center waiting to see a doctor, I watched my
very short-lived social life drift by. I was thinking that I'd probably never
go on another date, or get a boyfriend for that matter, and I'd certainly never
have sex again.
The nurse who examined me revealed that she had herpes and said it was no
big deal. She had been free of outbreaks for 12 years, and the same might be
the case for me, she said.
Genital herpes is a contagious viral infection that remains permanently in
the nerve cells. Many people are unaware they have it, because they don't
experience symptoms or because they attribute the symptoms to something else.
During an outbreak, blisters or sores appear on or around the genital area.
Some people never experience a second outbreak.
The nurse taught me how to manage the virus, but managing my personal life
was another story.
When I confronted my friend about the situation, I asked if he knew that he
had herpes. ''I thought it was a cut,'' he said.
''How would you cut yourself there?'' I asked.
Years later, I've come to the realization that he knew he had herpes, and
that is the reason he stopped in the midst of our sexual adventure. Our
friendship, unfortunately, ended as quickly as the act. It was hard enough to
face the fact that we'd had sex, or tried to, and it was much harder to cope
with the fact that I had caught an incurable sexually transmitted disease.
The Silent Approach
In 1989, when I got herpes, the nurse told me I couldn't transmit the virus
unless I was having an outbreak. (At the time, many doctors and other health
care providers believed this to be the case, although a number of research
studies had already suggested otherwise.) So, I decided to keep quiet. For
three years, I had a boyfriend who never knew I had herpes. Each time I had an
outbreak, which for me consisted of a very small cluster of blisters that
lasted two or three days, I'd pretend I had a yeast
infection and say I couldn't have sex until it was gone.
By the time I finished college in 1994, the possibility of spreading the
virus even when you didn't have an outbreak had become more widely accepted by
health care providers. I was still uncomfortable about bringing up the subject,
but now I didn't have much of a choice. I didn't date for awhile, but
inevitably, I met someone.