I spent my last Valentine's Day with my first primary genital herpes outbreak — technically, HSV-2. I almost wrote "suffering" there instead of "spent," but I'm not writing this for a pity party; I'm writing it so everyone can celebrate the fact that about a fifth of the population of the US has HSV-2. Yay!
So, how did I get it? What dirty nooks and crannies did I find myself in prior to the diagnosis? Does it matter? I can tell you it was from protected sex; at least the actual penetration by the penis was protected. But everything before that was raw. And fantastic. I'm one of those people who can actually say I took STI precautions and still ended up bedridden due to one.
And I didn't care too much about what had happened, until the guy who gave it to me went silent.
We spent time together. Good nights. Good days. A fun, memorable hike in the snow where we found a liquor store and both took shots of whiskey to warm us up. I enjoyed spending time with him. It was a nice release. We shared old friends in common, and I was happy hanging out with him.
But it wasn't all fun. Our visit together ended up being awkward at times, and we both realized we were ready to go our separate ways. It happened quickly, and we didn't speak of how we would proceed moving forward. We just left it as is.
But, then, the day he left, my vagina started feeling off. I know my vagina well, like I hope that any other 33-year-old woman does, and it felt messed up. I had never experienced this before, but wasn't surprised, really. I was 33 and had somehow made it this long without an STI.
The symptoms got worse. Large, open sores began to cover my most beloved lady-parts, and I found myself in stirrups with a fever on the day of my fun women's clinic staff retreat. (Life is funny, huh?)
"So, what brings you in?" my adorable gynecologist muttered while glancing over my chart.
"Well, I think I am having my first herpes outbreak. I have a fever, I'm very sore, and my vagina is covered with open sores. I know what it is. I just had sex for a few days with a new-ish partner. We used condoms, but only for actual intercourse."
"Okay, let me take a look," the doctor said. "Well, yes. It does look like exactly how you described it. This is definitely a new exposure."
"I work at a women's clinic so I know the routine, and how the sob stories don't matter, and that its actually just a cold sore on my vagina," I said, "but I loved my perfect pussy before today. I really did."
Did I really say that to the doctor? I did. I wasn't concerned about how or why I caught what I did. I had sex, I knew the risks. I was more daunted by the idea of my pretty perfect vagina being tampered with.
I reached out to the guy who I spent the time with and who I had most likely contracted it from. At first, he was somewhat responsive: "Oh, you're getting tested? Let me know what you find out. I'll get tested, and I'll let you know my results, too." Then he responded to an email with, "This sucks."
To which I said "Yeah, ya think? It really does suck."
And then he went silent.
I emailed. I asked. I knew that what I was experiencing was an initial outbreak from new exposure. I didn't want explanation. I wanted to laugh about it with someone; I wanted support. I told him that over and over again in a few emails and even a phone call.
My contact with him regarding this started casual. Hey, this is going on. Wanted you to know. I never blamed him. I don't think he would have ever harmed me knowingly. Herpes can lie dormant; many are carriers without knowing it. Not everyone has a full-blown initial outbreak like I did.
I emailed again with my test results, wanting to talk. Weeks went by and I never heard anything back.
My world started to spiral downward. This guy had violated me so badly at this point. I was physically healed, but I was hurting emotionally now. I finally hit rock bottom and contacted some mutual friends about the situation.
And then, suddenly, he responded to me.
He said he also tested positive, and that he didn't want to talk about it.
Ha! He didn't want to talk about it?!
We haven't spoken since.
I wanted to share this for a few reasons. For one, educate yourself on STIs, your risks, prevention, etc. Be aware and able to deal with the outcome if you don't. Secondly, I was hurting for quite some time over someone else's silence. It crippled me. I felt unheard, unworthy, dismissed. It was way worse pain than any sores. I'll never quite understand what happened there.
I know I stooped low by reaching out to our mutual friends about it, but I wanted to be acknowledged. My only hope is that he found a constructive way to deal with his issues around our situation.