Building Positive Relationships: Herpes and Otherwise

It is often during times of transition and hardship that I’ve found I should be writing the most—I need to be writing. Obviously, I have neglected doing so over the last several weeks.

Herpes has drastically improved all areas of my life. I once was lumped into society’s beliefs 


 STIs. I was uneducated and convinced of the associated stigmas, which is why my own diagnosis affected me in such a negative capacity. After months on a roller coaster of borderline alcoholism, depression, and failure,

the beginning of 2016

has led to success in rising above my diagnosis. Life has removed some people from my circle without warning, without my permission.

That loss propelled me to evaluate the relationships and behaviors that I was tolerating within my space. Who was devoting an equal amount of time to me as I was to them? Who cared to ask how I was doing or what was going on in my life? Was this friendship making me a better person, or causing unnecessary drama in my life? Was I constantly drained from certain people/relationships? I have always been the “nice girl,” the girl who is always too nice, who gives more chances than she should. I am a genuine person, but through this experience, I have grown a backbone. I have evaluated who deserves a space in my life, and those who were simply toxic to my well-being and success. Thus, I removed myself from those relationships without a second thought.

Although there has been much loss over the last few months, a lot of people have made their way back into my life. People whom I have drifted away from over the years, or people whom I distanced myself from for one reason or another. I have always been judicious with how I spend my time, and who I spend it with, if anyone at all. I am happy with the group of people whom I choose to 


 myself with at present, and am honored that they choose to share their time with me. There is a lot of change happening now, positive change.

I recently accepted a new job opportunity to 


 me in '


 in addition to an internship to pursue my passion for sexual health education. For the first time in my life, I have a strong support group of friends, and once I move into my new apartment, we’ll be less than a mile away from one another. For someone recently diagnosed with an STI, perhaps the biggest news of all is that I just started sleeping with someone new. Well, sort of.

I still have flashbacks to mid-July, a time when I could not bear to look at my body, to touch my flesh. I wanted nothing to do with myself, my pleasure, my sexuality. I remember sitting in front of my mirror in an attempt to see if there were any sores visible. I peered into my reflection and looked away. I couldn’t. I accepted the pain, but I could not face it within myself, not then.

After being diagnosed with genital herpes, sex was...honestly, unfulfilling. It was something I craved, but it was not in the same way as it once was. It wasn’t because I wanted the feeling of an orgasm, or to feel the weight of a body against my skin. It was to validate myself and my body through another person’s eyes as still being deemed worthy to receive physical affection. To know that I 

wasn't equated to my STI. I 

look back to those weekly sexual encounters now as so emotionless, uninvolved, and numbing. Once the absence of that relationship was felt, I was forced to look into myself, to validate myself. This time, I looked back. 

A lot of women have reached out to me recently about my current sex life, so now that I am sleeping with someone, I feel it is an appropriate time to address it. Truth is, this is the first time I have been in any type of sexual escapade since my diagnosis, with someone who isn’t HSV-2 positive. We had a past sexual history, past chemistry, and it has recently been rekindled, or perhaps it has always been there. I suppose my situation is different than most, since I came out 


 to friends and family on social media. I never really had to disclose my status to him separately, he somehow already knew. It was just a text between us saying that he didn’t believe in the stigmas associated with herpes, but at the same time, wasn’t trying to be HSV-2 positive. Simple, honest, respectful. When engaging in sexual situations with him, I don’t feel like less of a person for having herpes, and the sex is just as fulfilling, just as exciting, if not more so than before I had herpes.

 With my new STI comes a side of my sexual confidence that I haven't seen before. Hey, I'm not complaining.  

I hold a lot of respect for him, not only for who he is as a person, but also in regards to my STI. I don't feel a need for his validation that I'm more than my disease, I already know. 

I have been spending a lot of time in thought about

losing my post-herpes virginity (coined by Ella Dawson)

, and I placed myself in his situation. To be quite honest, I don’t know if I could do it. Having an STI has allowed me to separate the stigma from the person, and I am grateful for that unique window of understanding. But at first thought, I don’t know if I could engage in sexual activity with someone who had herpes, or any other STI, if I were STI-free. Upon further analysis of myself, I would be open to the idea, and discussion of education/prevention of transmission. If I really, truly cared for the person, I would sleep with him. 

I feel ashamed for admitting my immediate uncertainty in such a scenario, but at the same time, this is why I am so involved in STI awareness and the 

pursuit to 

defeat stigmas--because I was once a part of that culture. If anything, herpes has increased the integrity, sense of adventure, and fulfillment in my relationships with others, as well as myself. 

Emily DepasseComment