The Most Common Questions People Ask Me About Herpes

I have been open about my experience with herpes for a little over a year now. Seeing that April is STD Awareness Month, I think it is about time I step up in an area I have openly lacked in—my activist writing. My interview was released today on a colleague’s website, Millennial Manifest, which a to “highlight the work of young activists who are passionately improving the world around them.” As it turns out—you can be your own inspiration. The actual interview was conducted months ago, but its release allowed me to see myself, and my vision, in a new light. 

I’ve decided to conduct a more in-depth interview with myself below about some of the most common comments and questions I receive about having herpes. Hopefully, it provides insight and comfort to those who have an STI, those who are involved with someone with an STI, or just someone who may be curious about what it’s really like.  

Q: So… if you have herpes how do you have sex?

A:Position of the day? Ha, I kid. It’s not really any different.  I receive pleasure, and I think sex is more enjoyable for me because I have a better awareness and sense of peace within my body. I disclose. I share the risks, the statistics, etc. Personally, I am not someone who has been able to invest in emotionless sex, I feel very deeply and require more of a connection with someone—that has always just been me. At this point, I’m pretty sure all of my social media followers are aware that I have HSV-2, it’s nothing I choose to hide or keep secret. It’s just another part of me.
Recommended Works: “Should I Tell My Boyfriend I Have Herpes” And Other Qs You Ask When Dating With an STI, 10 Lessons I’ve Learned After Living With Herpes For 1 Year

Q: You say you need a deep connection to have sex with someone, but you have herpes, so you must’ve slept around.
A: Nope, not my style--I need a mental connection before I can engage in physical intimacy. And even if I did "sleep around," my number wouldn’t make a difference. You can contract herpes by sleeping with one person, or you could contract it after sleeping with 100. Chances are, no matter how many people you’ve slept with, you’ll come into contact with the virus in one form or another (HSV-1 or HSV-2).The CDC estimates that about one out of every six people from 14-49 years old have genital herpes—and some don’t even know they have it. It is more common than you realize, and it isn’t always visible—yeah, you read that correctly. 
Recommended Works: No Stupid Questions: Seemingly Desperate Things I Asked Myself After I Was Diagnosed With Herpes, When ELD Became an STI

Q:What do you mean it’s not always visible? Doesn’t it hurt?
A: My first outbreak—the primary outbreak—was the worst physical pain I have felt in my life. I couldn’t walk, I hobbled to the bathroom. Going to the bathroom was painful and I cried every single time. I basically wanted to live in the bathtub surrounded by candles and wine. The doctors saw sores when I went in for my test, but I never saw them—I was too afraid to look, I could not even look at myself in the mirror I was so disgusted.

Until recently, that was the only physical outbreak I know of. I am largely asymptomatic. I could be shedding the virus at anytime, and my partner could contract it. Although the use of protection (Valtrex, condoms, etc.) decreases the risk of spreading the virus, it is still possible to contract since herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact. In the first year of infection, people with HSV-2 asymptomatically shed the virus 6-10% of the time.
Recommended Works: This Is How I Learn To Come, Positively Me 

Q: How do you feel about herpes jokes?
A: I'm not afraid to call someone out on them, that's for sure. I am a sensitive person by nature, and those comments do hurt.  Usually, the people making those jokes do not know someone with herpes (or they don't think they know someone with herpes), or they just aren't thinking when they say it. To me, it exemplifies the power of stigma in our society. When I address a herpes joke, the person typically is embarrassed, or doesn't know quite how to respond. Which goes back to why I am involved in this work, and why I am so public about my herpes status. I desire change.  
Recommended Works: My Path is Rooted in Orgasms and Herpes, I Am Not Afraid of Who I Am, Cultivating Power Through Vulnerability, Transformation Tuesday: My Story Before Herpes

Q: What about love?
A: I've been burned. I've fallen for people I shouldn't have. My feelings have been tossed around more than a salad. But perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned is how to love myself. I know love is possible. Even when you're STI positive, love is possible. Love is always, always possible.