Many people freak out when they hear “STD” but the stigma is totally unwarranted. According to Women’s Health, roughly 50% of sexually active people end up with one by the time they’re 25, so what’s the big deal? When a guy I was dating told me that he had herpes, it didn’t scare me away. I reacted sanely and slept with him anyway.
He told me the truth—not everyone does that. We were heavily making out and clothes were just about to come off when he paused everything. He pulled me up to look at him and told me he needed to tell me something. He shared that he had herpes and was infected with it five years prior. I didn’t panic. Instead, I respected that he actually told me. I’ve heard too many horror stories of people, even with HIV, not telling their partner their STD status. I was grateful he told me the truth so that I could make an informed decision.
It helps to be educated. Because I’m a sex and relationship writer, I already knew a great deal about the STD, but I wanted to learn more. I Googled “my partner has herpes and I don’t.” I learned about what people do when their partner has it and how they feel. I learned about the risks and how to stay protected. Arming myself with this information I was able to make a decision about whether to move forward or not.
Protection goes pretty far. On the whole, condoms are great at protecting against STDs. They’re super effective and reliable. Unfortunately, because herpes is a skin-to-skin contact disease, condoms only reduce the risk rather than preventing it on the whole. Nonetheless, they provide a decent chance that you won’t be infected.
Herpes is everywhere. According to WebMD, one in five Americans is infected with herpes. I’m not saying this means I want to go out and get it, I’m just saying it’s not the end of the world like some people act like it is. It’s a reality for many people.
As an adult, I get to make a decision. I have the information I need and from there I get to decide what I want to do. I weighed the pros and cons and decided that sleeping with him was worth the risk. I had some friends who shamed my decision, saying I was being irresponsible, but the reality was that it was no one’s decision to make but my own. People can judge all they want—at the end of the day, I’m going to do what I think is best for me.
It was a risk but it was worth it. Like I said, I weighed the pros and cons. The biggest con (maybe the only) was that I could be exposed to the disease. I decided to take my chances, though. I liked the guy a whole lot and the sex ended up being really great. I’d say in the end it was worth it. So far I’m not showing any signs of having herpes and I plan to be tested in a few months, which is the soonest it would show up on a test.
There are even meds you can take to minimize risk. There’s a medication called valacyclovir, which comes in pill form, that acts as a suppressive therapy and helps decrease transmission rates of herpes to an uninfected partner. I didn’t take it, but I knew that it existed and it should serve as a comfort for anyone who might be concerned if they find themselves in the same position I was in.
Shame and stigma make things worse than they need to be. Some people would’ve freaked out when he said he had herpes. These people likely haven’t had exposure to STDs or lack knowledge and education about them. There’s a huge stigma that places herpes (and other STDs) in the same category as leprosy. This just worsens the problem when people like him have to share their status.
I thought about how I’d feel if I was in his shoes. Not that this made me sleep with him or anything, but I tried to put myself in his shoes. I thought about what the process of telling someone must be like and how nervous he must have been not knowing how I was going to react. It must be super challenging even if you’ve made peace with it yourself.
There’s a heavier emotional burden than physical when it comes to STDs. Don’t get me wrong, herpes is awful to have, especially for women. It’s a super troubling disease. However, it seems like the emotional burden that comes with having it is even worse than the physical. There’s so much extra stress around dating, which is already challenging enough. I’m glad I was able to ease his emotional burden a bit just by reacting like a decent human being.
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