Until you get Herpes as an STD, you really have no idea how it can affect your life. I’m a 52 year old male, Australian, living in Sydney. I’ve had Herpes for approximately 10 years. From my point of view, everyone’s initial reaction to the news of contracting the virus is different; angry, cheated, bitter, sad, shocked, ashamed, worried, guilty, in denial… In fact, virtually every reaction is negative. No one I know has ever said to me they were so happy at the news, they cried. Plenty mentioned crying, but none associated it with happiness.
There is little wonder then, that people without Herpes see it as a negative. When I didn’t have it, I saw it as a negative. (I still do.) Hell, I saw every STD as a negative. Unfortunately Herpes, unlike most other STDs, doesn’t have a cure. I’m not sure that those who don’t have it, see “us” (as people) as a negative, but recently I was described by someone as diseased. Well, I guess I am.
None of us asked for Herpes. “Hey, look at me, can I have some Herpes today please?” Not one of us wanted it.
The thing is you can’t always tell who has it and who doesn’t. Some people have it and have no idea that they do. The symptoms can be so mild as to be unidentifiable to the layman. It’s hard to blame or hold a grudge against someone who gives you something in total ignorance. Something they were completely oblivious about until you told them you now have it, and until they were tested and the results came back positive..
My case I suppose falls into the rare category of contracting the virus through contact but not in a sexual way. You see my girlfriend at the time had Herpes, and eventually we had the talk. (I was surprised, but took it very well… I mean what else can a reasonable person do, and in the vast majority of cases, in both sexes, this will be the reaction. However, there will be the occasional over-reaction and of course an almost mandatory number of; “we-had-the-talk-and-I-never-saw- them-agains.”) From my point of view the relationship wasn’t that far along and we weren’t going to have sex. At least not until I was certain where we were going. But fate stepped in, and I was tested. I had it. Well I was certain I had it, before the test, classic Herpes symptoms. There was no doubt in my mind. When the results came back, there was no anger, no shock, no denial. I went straight to acceptance. No use making life worse for anyone else or dwelling on the negatives. It also made the no sex argument moot. Which pleased both of us to some extent.
It also changed the direction of my life…
I did all the appropriate reading and in the end knew more about it than my girlfriend. But at the time, I didn’t look at any sites where “sufferers” gathered. And we are sufferers, if not physically, at least mentally and emotionally. Some come to terms with it more quickly than others. Some seem to never come to terms with it or simply relapse from time to time into depressive episodes and bouts of isolation.
My solution was to marry the girl who gave it to me. After all I had feelings for her, she certainly had them for me. I thought this would solve our problem and end the risk of further spreading the disease. Keep it in the family so to speak. All tied up, in a neat little bow. But eventually, fate stepped in… again.
I found myself once again single… but this time with an added complication.
I’d never really had much of a sex life, but at this point I was thinking it was well and truly dead and buried. There was no hope, no chance, no use even looking. (Literally.) Relationships were going to be a thing of the past, it was going to be a hermits life for me. All sex initiated by me was going to be with me. Eventually I started looking around and found Hsingles, a “dating” and support site for people with Herpes. If I had known about this site sooner, perhaps I wouldn’t have made the mistake in getting married and basing that on the vagaries of fate and a common virus.
So at this stage I considered myself a sexual leper. (I still do by the way.) I have found different attitudes to this situation, through members on the Hsingles site. Some are almost in denial, some think we can carry on “normal” lives, some advocate going out with non-H people. Some have withdrawn and others seek partners and friends from amongst the “infected”. I found myself agreeing with those in this latter group. It seemed to me having to deal with the stress and disappointment that surely would come from outside the group, the “uninfected”, would far outweigh that from within the group. But I’ve found that that is not strictly true.
Dating someone with Herpes “means never having to say you are sorry…” so to speak. There is no need for the nerve-wracking talk and the stress involved, or the worry about rejection… well at least not on the grounds of being “diseased”.
Having a partner within the group means the risk of spread of the disease is stopped. Well at least if your relationship is monogamous or doesn’t involve those outside the group.
You will be with people who understand where you are coming from and what you have been and are going through. People who can empathise with your predicament.
Recently I was told that someone in “my situation” shouldn’t be so picky. Picky? Well I mused this one over for a few seconds, then came to the conclusion, perhaps this is something I used to think when I first joined the Hsingles site. Here was a subgroup of society with a disease in common. Whose (sex) life was affected by an incurable infectious disease. I think I did expect that other members of this group would be less picky than those outside it. After all, there were less of us to choose from. But I quickly found out this wasn’t the case. We were all just as picky as those unaffected. Well why not? We are still the people we used to be. We have the same likes and dislikes, the same preferences, biases, tastes, etc, etc. The success of a relationship, after all, is dependant on more than just the sharing of a common disease. It may be A love bug, but it isn’t THE love bug… if you know what I mean.
Recently I have put myself up on 2 mainstream dating sites. Just out of curiosity. One where I am very up-front about my medical condition and another where it isn’t mentioned. There is no comparison with the results. On one site I may as well be dead. No guessing which one. In fact I had to initiate contact myself, (or there would be no contact) and it is this site where I was told I was “diseased” and as such shouldn’t be so “picky”. It appears Herpes causes the necessity for one to lower one’s expectations in the suitability of a partner.
I’m finding that this site certainly isn’t good for one’s confidence or self esteem. This makes one wonder if one should continue on the other site and try to further contacts there or will it lead to the seemingly inevitable negative reaction or a spate of polite no thank-yous. It might be different for a woman perhaps. I can’t say. But it seems to me that with women considering men, it’s a matter of there are plenty more fish in the sea and they’re always biting and they don’t have the disease. “You’re nice and attractive… but you have Herpes. He’s nice and attractive… no contest!”
This has also lead me to think lately about those of us (males) who are in denial or who don’t warn sexual partners about our condition and the risks involved. Is it just too hard, too stressful, too disheartening? Is it easier to ignore the situation and just let the cards fall where they may. After all there is no guarantee they will catch it from us. Why complicate life? If something happens there is always plausible deniability. Or outright lying. Does the need, the drive, the desire… all those survival of the species things, outweigh our responsibility to the truth and care for others? For some of us (unfortunately) it doesn’t.
To tell or not to tell? Are they right or am I right? Should I deny myself and be celibate if I can’t find a partner with Herpes or are they right in thinking the risk is too insignificant to worry about and it’s no big deal anyway? Of course there are other aspects of a relationship that one misses apart from the physical intimacy, the companionship, love, sharing life, (having a life) etc, etc, etc… But… much of that seems to hinge on having a normal sex life, normal intimacy, and that of course brings us back to Herpes.
Note: The Hsingles site referred to in this story is now called Living Sphere Community.