Herpes is Not a Death Sentence

I remember being in 7th grade, sitting in on those uncomfortable sex education classes during P.E. where my teacher would lecture us about safe sex practices. He demonstrated to the class how to put a condom on a banana and gave us students worksheets to label genitalia. What my teacher never told the class was how to cope if you get an sexually transmitted disease and how to get proper treatment. This left us to navigate the myths from the facts about STDs by ourselves.

Three weeks ago, my friend slept with a guys she had feelings for but they were not officially dating. She did take a daily birth control to prevent pregnancy but they did not use a condom.

Ten days later she came to me and told me she knew something was wrong. She felt feverish and had large sores on her genitals. I gave her the name of my gynecologist and told her to make an appointment immediately. The next day when she left the examination room, she could not stop crying. She said, “I knew it. I knew this was an STD, I just didn’t know how bad it was. I have genital herpes, strain HSV-2.   I’m tainted for the rest of my life. I’m worthless. I’m never going to be able to have kids.” I told her to calm down and that everything would be ok, but even I had no idea what to suggest.

She ended up going home and looking up horror stories about herpes online, only scaring her more and making her feel helpless and alone. She read tons of random facts on various websites, unsure of how to sort out the myths from the facts. Her three biggest concerns were that she would have painful breakouts frequently, never be able to have kids, and never be able to engage in oral sex.

Genital herpes is extremely common in the United States, with roughly one out of every six people between the ages of 14 to 49 having the disease. People with herpes can still have sex, but they should always use condoms. Pregnant women should contact their doctor so they can prescribe medicine to reduce the risk of symptoms and the likelihood of passing the disease onto the child. In terms of oral sex, HSV-2 does not like to live in the mouth, so it is relatively unlikely your partner would acquire it. The risk of transmission is low if you are on the medication, but there is not a 100% guarantee.

While there is no cure for herpes, medication can greatly reduce the number of breakouts. While many people fear talking about the virus, educating yourself about it and having open and honest communication with a physician is important for staying healthy. Also, remember that for some people, getting an STD is not just physically taxing but also mentally. If you think talking to someone would be helpful, the JMU counseling office provides 5 free counseling sessions to each student.

For more resources to find a local clinic and physician near you here, click here.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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