Herpes Simplex Virus 2

...An orthodox chromosomal gene and a venereally transmitted virus agree with one another in wanting their host to copulate. It is an intriguing thought that both would want the host to be sexually attractive...

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Most of us know the statistics by now, but still there are very few people willing to own up to having some form of VD. There is obviously a lot of stigma involved with having a sexually transmitted disease.

I have genital herpes (HSV2). When I found out, there was no one I could talk to about it. In the early years, symptoms were extremely mild and infrequent, and in a way it seems odd that it would be considered so devastating to acquire such a condition. It's about the where and the how: genital area, during sex. It seems it's all about location, location, location when it comes to attaching judgment or blame. People make mistakes, and aren't always responsible when it comes to sex, but even if you use condoms regularly, there is no guarantee that you will not contract some form of VD.

Not all people who come into contact with this virus develop noticeable symptoms - I was one of the unfortunate ones who did. During my first outbreak a sample was taken, and I do indeed have HSV2.

Sexually transmitted diseases are associated with character defects. Sex carries huge risks. It doesn't matter if sex is everywhere, if people think they are liberated in their attitudes about sex, or that there is no risk-free behaviour except total abstinence, if you manage to pick up an STD, people think less of you, especially if it's one of the ones that can't be cured.

At the time (1989), the general attitude I had absorbed about it was that when you caught herpes, your life was over. Not in the sense that your life would be over if you contracted HIV, but in the sense that you would never again know sexual spontaneity, and that you had become a sexual/social leper. HIV is no longer the death sentence it was thought to be years ago, and the stigma is greater than with herpes, but there is still a serious stigma associated with herpes.

For a very long time there has been talk of a vaccine that will be ready in two years - but two years go by and they are still saying the same thing. Previous studies have been expensive, and have not had good results. At present there is a vaccine for young women who have never been infected with HSV1 or 2, with an expected success rate of 70-something % - in time this would reduce the amount of virus active in the dating pool.

I had actually been using condoms regularly for many years, and since the age of 18 was usually the one who bought them (and put them on) myself, no matter how limited my funds. At age 23, I had been in a relationship for a few months, and before it I hadn't had sex in a year and a half. After my boyfriend and I had broken up, I went back a few months later for sex, (one occasion only), and during that occasion, there was a mishap with the condom. I went the next day for a morning after pill, and within a couple of weeks I had my first (exceptionally brutal) herpes outbreak. My ex had left town for xmas by that time, and when he came back, we only occasionally had very brief and superficial contact (he didn't want to discuss herpes), and then I moved away.

If in order to be responsible I tell people that I have HSV2, I end up sounding like a person with a history of irresponsibility. Added to my other 'accomplishments' in life, it looks like something of a pattern that most certainly could not be attributed to bad luck alone, but starts looking like a symptom of an insidious character issue.

...So now Stephen must actually learn at first hand how straight can run the path of true love, in direct contradiction to the time-honoured proverb. Must realize more clearly than ever, that love is only permissible to those who are cut in every respect to life's pattern; must feel like some ill-conditioned pariah, hiding her sores under lies and pretences... She had not yet gained that still-bright courage which can only be forged in the furnace of affliction, and which takes many weary years in the forging...

Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness

Most people who contract diseases like this may come to the conclusion it is smarter to keep your mouth closed and feign ignorance. It may be a self-preservation instinct, and it may be a genetic pressure that is hard to resist. It is stupid to reduce your chances for mating unnecessarily.

It is possible to transmit HSV2 without noticeable symptoms, but I think it is likely that it is most often passed on by those who have symptoms but can't override the sex instinct. It is not easy when you are in the moment to be truthful, and if you continue to try to be so, you may mess with your ability to respond normally - which seems to be what has happened in my case.

When you think that the virus can be passed on through asymptomatic shedding, it can make you paranoid about what parts touch what, and that a condom does not cover everything. Even when it comes to who touches what/who (including one touching oneself) when, and who puts on the condom, etc, requires thought, and it is not possible to be truly spontaneous. In my case, my last long-term relationship was with a person who was a 34 year old virgin when I met him. We had already discussed enough to know that what we wanted in life did not match up in the long run, and so our relationship was viewed with that reality in mind. I think that the anxiety involved with trying to make sure I did not further reduce the chances of a person who was very shy in initiating relationships in the first place was probably overwhelming, and probably was part of what contributed to an increase in outbreaks and eventually led to me concluding the safest option was to distance myself and hope that he could move on to a new relationship.

There are support groups and discussion groups, but for me the issue is more complicated as I have other problems that are a serious drawback when it comes to dating.

For those who would prefer to focus on the positives, I have managed to have two long-term relationships as well as several other unusual relationships since contracting HSV2.















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