Quite often I get questioned about how I got into the field of sexuality education. My answer is always, “When I was in undergrad a friend of mine got a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and I wanted to find ways to prevent that from happening to others.” Four and half years later, I am ready to admit that “friend” is me. Let’s go back to my junior year of college…as if I didn’t already have enough going on, life decides to add an incurable (yet treatable) virus to the mix. Before experiencing this firsthand, I thought that STIs only happened to people who weren’t “careful.” That was not true at all. I was using condoms and it still happened to me. Many people (including younger me) aren’t aware that while condoms significantly reduce the chances of transmission, they don’t completely eliminate it – especially if there has been a recent outbreak.
The truth is an estimated 50–80% of the population in North America has herpes, either type 1 or type 2. Both types are similar to one another and can cause outbreaks on or near your genitalia or mouth. Many people are unaware that they have it because herpes testing is not a part of routine STI testing.
So why, 4.5 years later am I’m ready to tell the truth about how I got into sex ed?
- I simply don’t want to use a “cover story” anymore.
- I want others to know that they are not alone. In fact, about 1 out of every 6 of Americans age 14-49 have herpes.
- I want to break the stigma. People have been dragging Usher after news surfaced of him having herpes. Those “jokes” and memes are promoting stigma. Think about the people who are still struggling with the fact that they have an STI and how those “jokes” can lead to self loathing, depression, and other mental health issues.
- You can still live a completely normal and healthy life!
Even though I thought it was at first, having herpes is not a death sentence. There are definitely worse things that can happen. It’s okay to be upset, but you cannot let this determine how you live the rest of your life. You can still accomplish all of the things you want to accomplish. You can still have [safe] sex and yes, you can still have children. There are several options available for keeping the virus under control. There are even support groups and dating sites for people living with herpes! Talk to someone you trust. Talk to your health care provider. Talk to your partner(s). You can even talk to me.