Oct. 2, 2000 -- 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.