I’ve got Heroes!
The first time I heard about genital Herpes, I was 23, and a friend of a friend had been diagnosed with a Herpes Test Kit from a Laboratory. She was devastated; I remember her crying about it in the pub and worrying about how she would tell her most recent partner. Our mutual friend, her housemate, was concerned she might ‘catch’ Herpes from her and saw it as something dirty. I knew nothing about Herpes but listened to her worries and didn’t judge; it started a long friendship.
Then, five years later, I was 28, I had been in a relationship for four years, and I was at home for Christmas with my family. I had been partying a lot and was feeling run down. On 29 December, I started feeling ill. I had an achy temperature, and the glands in my groin were feeling swollen. My legs had been itchy for a few days, but now the itch had spread around my vagina. I knew something wasn’t right, but I felt I couldn’t tell my parents, so I returned to Bristol the next day.
That day I felt a lot worse, and I developed what looked like mouth ulcers on the skin around my vagina. They hurt, so I bathed them with warm water. I did the thing doctors tell you not to do and Googled my symptoms, and from that, I was pretty sure I had Herpes. And I needed to get a Herpes test.
After a very uncomfortable night (having to sit in a warm bath to wee),
I went to the sexual health centre in Bristol at 9 am on New Year’s Eve. But I felt like I was at rock bottom. I filled in a form and got seen quickly. And I explained my symptoms to the male doctor, who examined me. He and the nurse in the room were so kind and sympathetic. I was in a lot of pain, and they made me feel at ease. Although my symptoms were consistent with Herpes, they couldn’t confirm the diagnosis until they got the results from the Herpes Home test swabs they took. I remember the doctor saying that two out of three people have Herpes, which meant he or the nurse probably had it. It made me feel normal and that I was just unlucky to get symptoms. I was given some drugs and sent on my way.
And I was quite upset by the diagnosis and worried about telling my boyfriend.
I told him, and he was amazing. He was just upset that I was in pain and felt bad that maybe he might have contributed to it. There was no way of knowing who I had contracted it from as it can lie dormant, but my partner occasionally suffered from cold sores, so I did wonder if I had got it from oral sex. In which case, at least I had fun getting it! A week later, we were in Waitrose when I got the call from the sexual health clinic – they confirmed that I had Tested Positive for HSV type 1.
I remember they then listed all the other STIs I had been tested for. HIV was negative, syphilis negative etc, etc. I remember feeling relieved that I just had Herpes rather than another of the infections that the STI Test also had been completed. I was relieved as it didn’t have any long-term health impacts. Also, after reading up about it, I understood that you can still get it even if you use condoms. That made me feel better as I was feeling guilty.
When I was younger, I had had unprotected sex.
After that STI episode, I didn’t get another herpes outbreak for about a year, and that was so much milder. I knew what it was, so it didn’t seem so scary. Telling my boyfriend that sex was off the cards and I needed to get checked. It was easy to get a home test kit this time. And because the Herpes Test was positive again, it was also fine. (possibly because he was excited that might mean more blow jobs!).
I’ve had positive STI Tests about five outbreaks in eight years since my first episode. I went for years without one and had forgotten I had Herpes, but then last year, I was a bit run down and stressed and had it twice in two months. It’s a good reminder to take care of myself, but it’s mild enough now that it passes in a few days without taking medication. I am no longer with my boyfriend; I’ve had a few relationships since then; however, I’ve never felt compelled to tell a new partner about it. If I got symptoms in a relationship, then yes, of course I would. I’m careful with my sexual health, use condoms and have occasional STD home tests. I’ve never had chlamydia or any other STIs.
I only told a few close friends about it at the time.
Some of them were quite shocked, which I found a bit strange. I then became a bit sensitive to how people talked about Herpes Testing. There was a very promiscuous guy, and my university friends knew he was a bit greasy and sleazy. I can remember people describing him as ‘looking like he has herpes’ – looking back, I wish now I’d had the confidence to say, ‘What like me?’. In recent years, I’ve gotten close to a new friend who confided in me that she has Herpes Type 11. She was so relieved when I said I did, too. We talk so openly about STI testing now, and it helps to normalise it. When we were messaging about it once, it autocorrected to ‘heroes’, which we now call it.
I barely think about having Herpes now.
I think of it as someone who gets cold sores. But instead of being on my face where everyone can see it, they are in my knickers where I can hide them. And I know what I would prefer!