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How Herpes Saved My Life

I have genital and oral herpes—and I swear it saved my life. It sounds weird, I know, but it's true.

I contracted herpes as an undergrad at Berkeley in the mid 80s. My boyfriend had a cold sore on his lips after the first sunny day of skiing. Since childhood he would get the same little blister after the first day on the slopes, so he didn't think much of it. Both of us ignorant of the potential transmissions to genital areas, he went gloriously down on me.

If I hadn't contracted herpes in college, I think I would have engaged in a lot of stupid, unsafe sex. I'd likely have contracted far more serious sexual transmitted conditions. Let's be serious, I'd be… Dead.A week or so later my entire vulva erupted in horribly painful oozing sores. The nurse practitioner at the university health clinic coldly declared the diagnosis and bluntly dismissed me with a prescription slip. She was neither helpful nor comforting for this scared kid. Judgment hardened her face.

This initial outbreak lasted for a couple of painful weeks. For the next few years I suffered frequent and debilitating outbreaks. Why did I suffer so when others with the same disease got away with hardly an itch?

As I struggled with feeling contaminated and crippled during that first year, I was accepted into an excellent seminar on the mind-body connection in the Psychology department. As a coping mechanism of the grieving nerd, I decided to make herpes recurrences and triggers my research topic. Since this was before the Interweb, much less Google or medical information sites, it wasn't uncommon for the average citizen to be totally in the dark about their medical conditions. Armed with treasured access to the university library, I combed through card catalog (how archaic!) databases on disparate current research. This research process, supported by a non-judgmental and brilliant professor, helped me to better understand the disease, manage outbreaks and, most importantly, normalized the situation for me.

But that's not how herpes saved my life.

In college I claimed my sexual rights as an adult and became very sexually active and very experimental. I continued in my sexual growth as I moved from Berkeley to San Francisco. This was during the death-filled days of the AIDS pandemic. Having herpes was just so common that it just wasn't a big deal under the shadow of HIV's certain death sentence at the time.

My Herpes—yes, I saw the disease now as mine; the very bugs that would now live in my basal ganglion and share my body with me, as common as the bacteria in my stomach and mitochondria in each of my cells, were part of me now. My Herpes became the little annoyance that gave me the best reason/alibi/excuse ever to whip out a condom or dam or gloves with that new hottie I hooked up with. I'd smile and tell them I have herpes and talk about it as a common nuisance. I'd then tell them I was hot for them and don't want to harm them so I'd like to use a condom. I figured that if anyone had an issue with hot latex sex with me because of My Herpes, they didn't like me, the whole person. I wouldn't want to hang out with such a shallow sob.

It never caused a problem and no one ran away. With each occasion I felt stronger, smarter and sexier.

If I hadn't contracted herpes in college, I think I would have engaged in a lot of stupid, unsafe sex. I'd likely have contracted far more serious sexual transmitted conditions.

Let's be serious, I'd be…

Dead.

Herpes is most contagious right before an outbreak and continues to be transmittable through the outbreak. You may or may not know when you're in a pre-outbreak stage. Some people feel a tingling sensation, others don't.

If you want to know more about the real facts on herpes, the CDC's website has some great info. One stat reads that 1 out of 5 sexually active adolescents and adults have herpes. That one may be you without even knowing it.

While not everyone with herpes experience recurrences, people with recurrent herpes usually have particular triggers or sets of triggers. These will vary from person to person. Obviously the college boyfriend was triggered by first exposure to bright sun light. Others are triggered by nuts, chocolate, stress, etc. You have to observe your own patterns.

My triggers turned out to be a combination of sleep deprivation, negative emotional stress, and a lowered immune system. So when I have an outbreak, I take that as my body's alert system to get some sleep, consider the blessings in my life, pop some vitamin C and take care of myself. My Herpes behaves as my personal stress watch-bug.Herpes is a pain and a hassle—but in the dating world I turned it into an advantage to stay healthy, ethical and joyously sexual.

Yes, My Herpes saved my life.

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I appreciate this article

I appreciate this article because it's good for letting folks out there know they aren't as alone or they don't have to be diseased shut-ins. I feel It's important to note that herpes is skin to skin transmitted and a condom only covers so much. the pubis, scrotum, labia, or any other touching area that has been affected can also transmit the virus. The virus generally likes soft tissue, so it can be transmitted to eyes and nose easily as well.

I got my first outbreak about 5 years ago. I got it from a guy who didn't know that herpes could be transmitted from his mouth to someone's genitals, let lone knew that "cold sores" WERE herpes. Talk about a lack of sex-ed. He had an oral outbreak 2 days after we fooled around, I had my first outbreak a week later.

I wish more people would come forward and just be open about their status, and maybe it wouldn't be such a big dirty secret. For me, it's been 5 years, and I unfortunately have found that I still feel like a sexual outsider. I've taken more sexual risks because of it. I'm more likely to be casual with someone I could care less about and am less likely to engage in acts with people I do like. I've managed to avoid being in a committed relationship. I don't want the guilt of passing it on to someone I care about.

I can't say that herpes has saved me.

Great article. I do want to

Great article. I do want to say, though, that you're really lucky that your HSV-positive status never scared anyone away. Or maybe your intrinsic hotness won out. I've had it for about 15 years, and although I think I'm pretty hot, too, more than one guy has treated me like a leper when I told him. Latex barriers for oral sex and intercourse did nothing to assuage their fear. One guy refused to kiss me because he was afraid the virus would somehow travel up from my pussy to my mouth (I don't have oral herpes). I even had one boyfriend of a year break up with me because he had a suspicious symptom and freaked out. (He didn't have it, it turned out, but he was still gone.) I'm super grateful for my current boyfriend, who has been wonderfully sane about the whole thing, and with whom I've been fluid-bonded for over two years. He didn't even test positive for the antibodies when he had bloodwork recently. Anyway, just wanted to provide a more realistic perspective about people's potential reactions.

I have to give you credit,

I have to give you credit, Jen; at least you were willing to work with your previous partners as far as barrier sex. As someone who's HSV negative and who has at least five other health conditions, I have to turn down HSV positive partners if they don't want to engage in specific activities, i.e. no or protected oral if you have HSV-2, and absolutely no contact during a breakout. Congrats on finding a good man, and as much as I hope his status never changes, at least you know he won't run if it does. Kudos to you!

Midori You Are Awesome!

So few are willing to come out and share their stories with the public. Thank you for doing so. I already thought you were pretty darn awesome, but you've just won even more points in my book. Thanks for all you do. <3

Bravo

What a well written, informative and moving article. Congrats, Midori. I hope lots of folk read it and follow your suggestions for safe sex fun. I hope people see that the can be open and honest with their partners about herpes. It was an encouraging article.

I wish these comments were a bit more positive

I wish more people could treat this virus like you- because ultimately, it's not that big of a deal. I've had it a year and a half and I've been lucky, even my worst outbreaks are just minor inconveniences.

It hasn't been easy telling new partners, but I think it's made me stronger as a person and made me value myself and sex more. I've been rejected once because of it, but it made me realise that he was a jerk who really only wanted sex from me. But another guy I told was understanding, and wonderful about it, did his research, came to the conclusion that it wasn't a big deal, and we dated for 9 months.

I guess my point is that yeah, it sucks, and telling people is scary. But if someone can't handle it, then they aren't right for you. Herpes has made me realise that someone who isn't willing to take the minimal risk that they might get it, they don't care enough about you.

I wish these comments were a bit more positive

I wish more people could treat this virus like you- because ultimately, it's not that big of a deal. I've had it a year and a half and I've been lucky, even my worst outbreaks are just minor inconveniences.

It hasn't been easy telling new partners, but I think it's made me stronger as a person and made me value myself and sex more. I've been rejected once because of it, but it made me realise that he was a jerk who really only wanted sex from me. But another guy I told was understanding, and wonderful about it, did his research, came to the conclusion that it wasn't a big deal, and we dated for 9 months.

I guess my point is that yeah, it sucks, and telling people is scary. But if someone can't handle it, then they aren't right for you. Herpes has made me realise that someone who isn't willing to take the minimal risk that they might get it, they don't care enough about you.

this premise is utterly

this premise is utterly ridiculous. how exactly can you claim that if you hadnt contracted herpes you would dead? you rationalized how you did after contracting herpes, which is fine and i imagine natural to anyone who contracts an incurable disease. however, to claim it saved your life because you decided to have safe sex after the fact is hardly a testament to anything but being naive once upon a time. you chose to be safe and open about it, which is admirable, but i daresay not common. using your own statistic, if 1 in 5 teens and adults have herpes, how do you suppose they got it? unless they were born with it, they were sleeping with someone that they probably shouldnt have, safely or not, as you probably know, it is still possible to contract herpes even with protection, in defense of the 'shallow sobs' who might have felt insecure about sex with someone who has admitted to having an incurable STD, your rationalization that you turned it to an advantage, is exactly that, yours. take a poll of how many people want a partner with herpes, or hepatitis, or HIV, take a wild guess at what the majority would prefer. all are in the same boat, although herpes is easily the least dangerous, but this does not change the fact that to sleep with this person is to risk transmitting to them. and since in herpes case, symptoms might not show for quite awhile after, who knows, maybe you did give a few of your boyfriends herpes, would you still say then that you maintained an ethical stance because they were aware of it beforehand? this entire piece seems more self-congratulatory than illuminating.

Missing the point

I think you are missing the point of the article. She stresses rather clearly that had she not had this wakeup call early in her sexual explorations, she would have continued down the path of riskier sex that ultimately could have led her to being exposed to HIV/Aids, which at that time was basically a delayed death sentence.

She, at least in my opinion, does not come across as self-serving or self-congratulating. She clearly states that once she knew she had it, and started dealing with the physical and psychological issues associated with having it, she was able to stand up to it and not let it rule her anymore. She also states she made it clear to her partners of it and that it was their choice to play with her or not, and if they did play, they took the necessary precautions. Sure, the BEST precaution is to totlaly abandon your sex drive, but given the fact that we are humans, I don't really think its very likely or very smart. Sex is ingrained within our being, and as far as I can tell, many people who proclaim theirselves to be chaste aren't.

The chief thing I got from the article was that she had pushed off her shame of having it, and was not letting it be in control. There are many people who have STD;s and are too ashamed to tell anyone. It takes a LOT of guts to put forth the fact that a) she does have it, and b) she isn't hiding behind anything.

At first I was taken aback at your criticism of her, and that I thought you were being cowardly for hiding behind your anon... but then I realized that having people comment on it was also part of her intent. She's not writing this to be sefl-congratulatory, she's trying to get across a point. If you read the article with more of an eye towards neutrality, I think you would see that. The comments posted before yours from other people who have the disease seem to be all in her favor, and of a congratulatory note of her coming out about her status. I don't think in any point of history publicly declaring you have an STD (not to mention giving as much info as she does) has ever been seen on a positive note. So if you have never done something stupid or human for the wrong reasons, then Bravo for you. But if you are like the rest of us, cut her some slack and reform your arguments so that they are more of a critique and less of a personal attack.

Bravo Midori!

Kudos for another well written and thought provoking item.

I'm in the same boat as you, and I can't tell you how often I've had the exact same thought. As a young adult, endowed with both a rampaging libido and an Alabama upbringing, I took way too many risks in the name of hot sex. Contracting herpes was the best thing that ever happened to me in many ways. Like you, I am an ethical person and so was forced to grow up about my sexuality when I came down with with the wee little beasties.

Like you, I became more aware of the indignities I subjected my body to once an outbreak was the reward.

Herpes helped me learn to respect my self and that key component of myself--my sexuality.

When I read thru this site and find articles like this, I have some hope that the next generation won't have to learn the hard way like we did. Keep up the good work!

sanctimonious, self-delusional nonsense

in case you missed it, lots of us who slept around like crazy didn't die.

It may have been risky, or even 'stupid', in RETROSPECT, but your rationalising how herpes was a great thing for you is simply ridiculous.

Sorry this is the best way you can find to feel good about yourself
Or to come up with a flimsy basis for an "article".

Next week: how my tooth decay prevented World War III.

Unfortunately I didn't miss

Unfortunately I didn't miss it, and I know a lot of people who slept around like crazy that *did* die. You just don't hear their point of view all that often any more. Being dead will do that.

I think the point is that Midori can name the luck that kept her from becoming a statistic in the '80s, that being HSV and subsequent use of condoms. Most of us who were active then, "sleeping around like crazy", have no idea why we were spared.

When I got herpes, I had only

When I got herpes, I had only slept with 5 people and I was 34yrs old. My boyfriend had lied to me and told me he didn't have it, but he did.
My story has nothing to do with HIV or Herpes saving my life, but this article just helped me in a way that today nothing else could.

For someone who hasn't had to deal with accepting having herpes, I can see where this may just go over your head.
You can't understand what it is like to have something that doesn't kill people, but is treated like it does.
You don't know how much courage it takes to be honest and responsible with someone, knowing they may respond with disgust and walk out when two minutes prior they were acting as if they were falling in love and you were perfection.
Herpes is normally no worse then a yeast infection, but most guys don't freak out about yeast infections at all...and they can catch that too by the way. I'm a very confident person. I've never had trouble getting a date, but herpes somehow changed that confidence and I couldn't wrap my brain around how to get myself back. Every date I go on I try to just have fun, but no matter what, the thought will go through my head at some point that if things work out, I'll have to have the talk. It makes me want to throw up

What this article did for me, is remind me that it's possible to not think of my body as a walking koodie and that it's possible for someone to come to peace with having herpes. You may not understand it, but the fact that the author could find any positive acceptance just gave me hope. Hope I couldn't find 5 minutes ago. I'm sure this article can mean different things to different people, but for me, it was meant to remind me that i can continue to have the courage to be honest with possible partners and that no matter what happens, one day, I may not let the herpes make me feel like less of a woman....someday someday

I'm not sure what you are upset about

I don't understand the venom with which you are attacking this article and, by extension, me.

How is acknowledging the positive aspect of having herpes ridiculous, sanctimonious or self-delusional? Because lots of people who slept around didn't die? That's, to put it politely, a non sequitor.

I'm utterly confused by your remarks. Could you please clarify? You seem greatly upset about something and I'd like to know what it is.

PS Sleeping around isn't stupid, in retrospect or currently. Sleeping around without protecting yourself is.

PPS I can guarantee you that both Midori and I feel just fine about ourselves and don't base our respective self esteems upon having a disease. That'd be pretty squicky if we did, don't you think?

articles about herpes & profile advice for men

I wanted to tell you how pleased I am to have 'found' you and this site, and specifically at this time to say;

1. After the initial 'anger/ depression' period, I decided to use my herpes as a 'stress watch-bug' too. In fact, 'it' taught me to learn how to NOT LET myself get stressed... as much as possible. Also, I used to allow myself to get angry and 'fly off the handle' quite easily and often, but after I realized that it wasn't long after one of my outbursts, that I'd get an outbreak... I learned how to control my anger. I have always said that I was 'glad' to have gotten the disease. People look at me funny, but honestly... what I've gained in self control and reduced stress, is much more rewarding than the discomfort of the outbreaks (which are fortunately getting less frequent and less severe as the years go by).

2. I wanted to ask you.. if you have the time, and haven't already done it, to go to my Live Journal page (thor1957) and let me know if what I have there is kinda like what you were advising other men to do. Not that I'm looking for a woman... that site is ONLY for making 'friends'.

But mostly, this message is sent to tell you how grateful I am that you are here... doing what you do.

Sincerely,
Ned

PS: I am bisexual, and I think you are hot =)

A nicely balanced approach to a contentious topic

Thank you for this refreshingly level-headed treatment of a subject that all too often becomes excessively polarized in online discussions. I've seen so many comment threads about herpes in online communities devolve into a split between "Anyone who has herpes is a plague-ridden pariah who ought never to have any form of sex again with any living person underany circumstances" on the one hand, and "Herpes is no big deal, never really causes anyone any serious symptoms at all, and anyone who is sexually active in the slightest probably already has it, so really it's OK to expose anyone to it any time you want without their knowledge or consent." I don't really think either of those positions are very constructive, so it's good to see some sane middle ground.

The only slightly critical comment I would make is that for someone to choose not to sleep with someone who has herpes doesn't necessarily make them a "shallow SOB", or mean they they don't actually like the person. Herpes affects different people in different ways, and one of the complicating factors can be presence or absence of other health conditions. If someone has, for whatever reason, a weakened immune system, or some sort of autoimmune problem, or anything else that might cause a herpes infection to affect them more strongly than the average person, then I think they're within their rights to be cautious about avoiding exposure - and just using latex barriers isn't always enough, since it can sometimes be spread even by skin-to-skin contact. A good friend of mine who has an assortment of health issues was exposed by a boyfried who apparently had the "no big deal/no need to warn anyone" approach to his herpes, and for her it's been a really, really serious problem -- as in, spend hundreds of dollars on antivirals every month, or be in constant, totally debilitating pain to the point where she can't function at all.

I do realize that most people aren't affected that severely by it, and also that you were not by any means advocating not telling a prospective partner. My point is just that you, or other people who choose to be similarly honest and responsible about having herpes, might occasionally encounter someone who responds to finding out by saying "I'm really sorry, but because of my health situation, I really can't take that risk" - and that doesn't make them a bad person, just a person who due to the particular hand they've been dealt health-wise has to be more careful than most people.

great article and (some) great comments

thanks for such an honest, thought-provoking article. and thanks also to Caitlin, who commented that having herpes has made her stronger as a person and value herself and sex more. i don't have herpes — i'm looking for info because my new boyfriend does — but i can see that being forced to have a mature, honest discussion with someone before having sex with them might not be a bad thing.

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Midori
October 7th, 2009
Midori's picture
Midori is an artist, educator, and writer about sexuality whose books include The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, Master Han's Daughter, and Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink. Links to her classes,...