Words by Alysha, 24 QLD
Hey, so, you’ve just been diagnosed with herpes.
Welcome to the club!
Firstly, it isn’t the end of the world, or your sex life, even though I know it feels that way. In Australia alone, 1 in 8 people are living with herpes. This makes it one of the most prevalent STDs in the country that no one seems to want to talk about. Wild right?
There is so much information out there about herpes, but the most important thing you need to know is that it can be managed, it isn’t the end of your life, and it doesn’t make you dirty, broken, or unlovable. Please read that again.
So, what now?
Living with an STD isn’t always simple. I had a hard time coming to terms with my diagnosis for a little while. Every now and then I still have to remind myself of my worth when introducing the information to new people. In my almost four years of experience, I can say that people are generally loving and accepting; or at least curious and open to know more.
When I Googled how to tell people I have herpes, the internet made me feel like I had to join a herpes cult or be in a loving relationship where after a few dates you can just organically bring it up. But that just isn’t true, or realistic.
So how do you tell people?
Sometimes, it’s going to be awkward. It’s a strange chat to bring up, especially when you’re young and sex is spontaneous and fun and sometimes, after a big night out. But my advice is to just go for it when it feels right. The more you do it, the more you’ll find the best ways to bring it up.
I like to have a connection with the person I’m about to sleep with, or at least a good chat. And when I feel safe enough to relay the information to them, I just do; so far with a 90% success rate. I remind myself who I am, that I am strong and desirable despite what sometimes makes me feel the opposite. I am usually terrified and vulnerable, but it always feels like a weight lifted, and like I can truly be myself with that person.
One of the best things I’ve come across is author Ella Dawson’s TedTalk – STI’s aren’t a consequence, they’re inevitable. One of the key messages from this talk is the way you tell a story should be an indicator of how you want the person listening to receive it. So, if you’re calm, strong and say your piece, it should be received like no big deal. And it usually is. You can control your story and know your worth. That’s powerful.
What if someone rejects you?
Try and remember that it isn’t you they are rejecting, and everyone needs a little education and thought processing before making a decision about almost anything. Move on, and please don’t let it deter you from telling people in the future. People appreciate vulnerability because it is rare. And it is admirable.
What happens if you’ve already slept with someone, and were too scared to tell them?
First of all, this doesn’t make you a monster. We’re all human, and humans are imperfect and scared at times and allowed to make mistakes. Remember this if someone isn’t kind to you. All you can do is admit your mistake, stand by your apology, and rectify it for next time. You don’t have to feel awful about it forever, you don’t deserve that.
For a while, I was terrified of being ‘that girl with herpes’. But I am so much more than that, and so are you. I’ve come a long way since being diagnosed – you can ask my mother, I dramatically cried on the floor for four days straight – but I want you to know that in time, you’re going to be just as okay with yourself as I am. Give yourself time. And try not to be so self -critical, nothing good comes of that.
Since being diagnosed and answering any questions my curious friends may have had, I’ve had a handful of people come to me with their new diagnosis. They say that it hardly affected them mentally because of how I have represented myself as a woman with herpes. And they knew it wasn’t much to fret about; how it should be.
I can truly say that having herpes has affected my life very little, and I am more confident having found strength and my voice since being diagnosed. I am loud and confident and full of love for myself, and I hope that for you too.
Keep your head up, you’re going to be just fine.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc