Ignorance and fear of herpes block love and truth
The truth is I am beautiful, intelligent, creative, talented, inspiring, warm, giving, compassionate and loving. Every time I go on a first date, I see the sparkle in the man’s eyes as he takes all of me in, not believing it can be true that I possess all of this goodness, and yet am single. How can an amazing catch like myself not have been swooped up already?
I also see the light go out of his eyes when I tell him another fact about myself: I have herpes. Over a hundred times I have had this experience of feeling the excitement grow with a new man at our first date, and absorbing the attention and praise that is rightly mine…only to be forced to share my ‘imperfection’ and then witness the withdrawal of affection as that hazy I-don’t-want-to-catch-that fog fills the air around us.
On my spiritual journey, I have healed the places where I believed the world that because I had sex one time at 22 with a man who didn’t know he had herpes, that I should feel ashamed of myself. I have healed the places in me that believed our society when it told me I’m dirty or cheap or less than because I have herpes. I have healed the places in me that believed I was damaged goods, and that no one would want me. I have been working to heal my body and eradicate the herpes virus from it; and although I have successfully healed of this virus at my soul-level, the virus is still present in my physical body. I know of people who have been completely healed of it (yes Western medicine, you do not know everything), and have been pursuing that route myself. But I had to stop and ask myself: why have I not been able to remove it from myself yet? Is there a larger purpose to my soul’s journey that has beckoned this virus to me?
And with that question, the answer is Yes. My life’s journey has shown again and again that my purpose here on this planet is to share my truth, thereby giving others permission to share theirs. To open that door in the darkness and let the summer sunshine dispel the shadows. With all the secrecy surrounding herpes, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there are hundreds of thousands of people silently suffering shame because of a vast societal ignorance and unreasonable fear. To that end, here are my thoughts on herpes in our society.
If you are smugly sitting there feeling sorry for me: check your bags at the door and get real. If you have had sex with more than 4 people in your life, you have already been exposed to the herpes virus. If you think you are clear of it because your ‘STD test’ was negative, go take a look at it; most STD panels do not automatically test for the herpes virus. In fact, the herpes virus screen is a separate test that you have to specifically request. Feeling some fear now? That, also, is a ridiculous reaction.
Herpes is the ostrich with its head in the sand in this country. According to the CDC, in 2014 at least 26% of people 40-49 in the U.S. have been medically diagnosed with the genital type of herpes. Standard STD tests do not test for herpes, and so even this figure is outrageously shy of the potential statistics in a population that does not talk about herpes, does not test for herpes, and pretends that they don’t have herpes while they judge everyone who does. Many people are completely clueless they have herpes because it is so innocuous. Almost the entire population has the strain of herpes that causes cold sores in your mouth—you get that when grandma kisses you as a baby. And yet the public at large wants to ostracize anyone who confesses to having herpes because they are so afraid of catching it and having their entire life ‘ruined.’ My ex-husband routinely told me “We can’t leave each other now because we’re damaged goods and no one will want us.”
The only thing in my life ruined by herpes has been the treatment and perception I have received from misinformed and undereducated people. Living with herpes (for me) has been like living any other day as a human being in good health. Dating with herpes has presented the challenge of communicating the truth and being ready to receive whatever reaction comes your way; I routinely have to dive deep into not taking it personally, and having patience and compassion for the other person. I learned not to tell a man before he had a chance to meet me because it is easy to reject someone for herpes without taking time to get to know them. I also learned not to wait too long to tell a man because the more feelings you have for someone, the more it hurts if they choose to walk away. Picking the moment to tell someone can be tricky; honestly, there is never a good time because of the ignorance and fear that this conversation topic raises.
Using protection during sex and taking anti-viral medication helped me to not ‘give’ it to anyone I had sex with over the course of dating, except for my ex-husband with whom I started having sex right after infection (the most infectious time) and one man I dated who indicated he believed I had given it to him. Statistically, my personal experience has shown a very low odds of spreading it during intercourse with the precautions I took. (Of course, the men who said they didn’t ‘catch’ it from me also likely never had blood work done to confirm that they did not have it to begin with; their assessment of not ‘having’ herpes was purely experiential. In other words, they didn’t notice anything different in their bodies.) Apparently there is also a vaccination to prevent a person from catching herpes (women only), if they currently do not have it.
I want to take this moment to re-iterate that the majority of people who have herpes do not even know they have it because it doesn’t produce a noticeable reaction in their bodies. Yet, this virus, that doesn’t do anything to most people, is the cause of completely rejecting people who have awareness that they have it and honestly share that fact. Right…I would much rather date a person who has no self awareness, or has self awareness and lies about it, than someone who actually has self awareness and is responsibly communicating truth. Not. If that sounds resentful or frustrated or critical, I very much apologize; my patience with this issue has run thin after decades of dealing with it.
Although having herpes has been challenging, no challenges in life come without gifts. The gifts I received from herpes include:
- A built-in mechanism for determining which men were serious about dating me as a whole person, and which men only wanted to have sex with me. While there certainly have been those cases of men in denial when standing in front of the candy counter, for the most part the herpes discussion brought a level of seriousness into play for most men I have dated. Being with me requires a conscious choice, and at some level that feels good every time the answer is ‘Yes’.
- Experiencing how terrible shame and guilt feel when you do not speak your truth. There was about a year where I chose not to tell lovers that I had herpes. I took my medicine and I used protection and avoided sex if I felt I had an active outbreak—but I did not give the man the benefit of choice. This approach led me to feel lower and lower self-esteem, and taught me a valuable lesson about shame and its impact on self-worth. Once I started confessing the truth to each lover, going back through my rolodex up to a year prior, I felt lighter and lighter. The truth indeed sets you free, and I was able to experience it because of my herpes challenge.
- Learning first-hand about how fear can cause people to alienate others; and when you experience the ‘worst thing that can happen’, it liberates you to love with your whole heart. Now that I have felt rejection because of a physical challenge, I have immense compassion for others whose bodies keep them from living as fully, and connecting as freely with others, as their hearts desire. I have compassion for people who are told they will live constrained or ill the ‘rest of their lives.’ And I have a passion to help others change their DNA through energy medicine and the power of intention.
- Experiencing the impact of stress and anxiety on the body, and the amazing benefit of meditation, grounding, and calming yourself. If I hadn’t contracted herpes, I might not have realized how my anxiety and high stress was punishing my body. But with herpes, each time I let my anxiety and stress get out of control, my body warned me. Working with this virus, I learned the importance of letting go, tuning out, and finding inner peace. I learned how to maintain equilibrium and peace so that my body could have a healthy response to my life.
For those of you who have herpes, I send you the deepest hug and the brightest light of love. I have walked many miles in your shoes, and I completely respect the difficulty of your journey.
For those of you who believe you do not have herpes, but have not actually taken a blood test to prove it: get a blood test and face the truth of your body, whatever that is. Mostly, I hope this article has expanded your awareness, and that the next time someone confesses to you that they have herpes, you’ll respond more compassionately, and perhaps just go get the vaccine (women only). I wish you the capability of seeing past the herpes to witness the real truth: that the person in front of you is beautiful, amazing, intelligent, compassionate, loving, and an absolutely incredible catch.
For people who have discovered their partner has herpes: http://tinyurl.com/yg8zs9n
For people who have herpes and want to date without being judged for their physical condition: