How The Herpes Stigma Has Affected My Life
I was diagnosed with genital herpes in 2001, though I may have been carrying it for several years before that. At first I had severe outbreaks but with time they have faded significantly and only occur rarely and with mild symptoms.
My relationships, though, have suffered. I have had one man break up with me when I was too embarrassed to tell him before having sex with him. I currently have a man very scared that I have infected him and unsure of how he feels about me until, perhaps, he either finds out he has it or does not show any symptoms and assumes he has been lucky.
He had full disclosure, and it was all good until I had an outbreak occur the day after we had unprotected sex.
As for the stigma, it is a very real thing and each time I encounter a new relationship where this information becomes important, I go through shame, embarrassment, fear of abandonment, anger and frustration.
We as a society are genitally focused. A cold sore on the lip does not stop someone from having a loving relationship, or having people be scared to kiss that person once the infection has healed, but genital herpes inspires fear and loathing in those who do not have it (or do not present symptoms, as the case may be).
If this relationship also ends because of this, or my partner develops a fear of having sex with me, or an aversion to oral sex, the stigma will continue for me. If he can accept me, it will help with my emotional healing.
I am really unsure which direction it will go. I hope we can discuss it rationally, and he can see that I am not dirty or negligent or somehow deserving of this affliction. Yes, I have had unprotected sex, too often, and have been naive in assuming that people are honest but that does not make me a bad person or unworthy of a loving relationship.
I have work to do on myself as well, so that I can be okay with this part of me that feels ugly and shameful. It is very difficult to accept myself and enjoy my sexuality without feeling somehow unworthy of pleasure and love.Thank you for sharing your experiences and heart-felt feelings about the herpes stigma with our community. I’m sure that there are many others who are experiencing the same emotions and can learn to grow from your message.
I think that you have made a couple of important points that I need to address. When I was reading your story about having herpes and what the stigma of having herpes means to you, I was reminded that the herpes stigma is not just some broad problem facing our community. It also is a very individual thing. The stigma affects each one of us in our
own unique way.
Secondly, in hopes of not sounding too harsh, I think that you’ve also got a lot of emotional growth that needs to be done before getting into another relationship. I came to this conclusion based on your statements, “If he can accept me, it will help with my emotional healing.” And, “I have work to do on myself as well, so that I can be okay with this part of me that feels ugly and shameful.”
Your first statement implies that your emotional healing is based upon the actions of someone else. This is completely untrue and emotionally unhealthy. You’ll never gain the healing that you deserve if you continue to think this way. You may think that you will heal but in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth and may cause further damage in other relationships.
The way other people feel about you is more of a reflection about them than it is about you. They are seeing you based on their own filters, their own past, their conditioning, their cultural upbringing. What happens next is that they pass their fears and limitations on to you.
If you depend on someone else for your healing then their actions and inactions will be in control your emotions. You’ll become dependent on your partner to make you happy. True happiness comes from within.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. I think that most of us have gone through the same thing in some way. I know I did but I had to learn (and it is a learned skill) to put my giant ego aside and seek out the loving relationships that I deserved without the burden of my ego getting in the way. You must accept and be happy with your reality. Your reality of having herpes and being happy.
You have to learn to live outside of your comfort zone and let your light shine on the world. You were not put in this world to hide behind a stigma wall of shame. You must understand that there will be people that come into your life that will not accept that you have herpes and are not worth the risk. And you also must know that it’s perfectly OK for them to have their opinions even if their opinions don’t match our own. You must realize that what other people think doesn’t matter because in your reality, you are beautiful.
But the real freedom…your real peace will come when you know who you are and all of the beautiful things that you have to offer this world and every relationship that you have. Commit to your own calling in this world and not to that calling of someone else.
Think about this as you go on your journey of self-growth…what other people think about you is really none of your business.
May Peace Be With You,