Forks and Spoons: Living with an STD: a shared struggle

“I have herpes,” he told me, as we were lying together in his bed fully clothed, only a few days after we had started dating and before we had slept together for the first time. “I got it from my ex-girlfriend. She cheated on me, and didn’t use a condom. And well, now I have genital herpes. I like you, and I want this to go somewhere, so I thought you should know.”

At first I didn’t know what to think. Herpes? I didn’t think anybody actually had herpes. I see Valtrex ads all the time but I never thought it would happen to somebody I knew. I looked at this new face, this new important person in my life, and I tried to grasp the situation. I had just met this guy, but I really, really liked him, and I knew he felt the same way.

We talked and he told me more. His girlfriend cheated on him last year, then waited until after they had (unprotected) sex to tell him about it. He has HSV-2, genital herpes. He takes Valtrex every day, and that one pill dramatically lowers the chance that he’ll have an outbreak or pass on the virus. He said he told me right away because he didn’t want to hurt me. He wanted me to know his situation before things continued with us. I still didn’t know what to think, but I knew I wanted to stay with him that night.

I left his apartment the next morning and when I got home I immediately turned to Google.

Everything he told me about herpes was true. There are two viruses, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 causes both oral and genital herpes, while HSV-2 only causes genital herpes. Since he had HSV-2, I read that I couldn’t receive the virus from oral sex. Since he took Valtrex every day and insisted we would use a condom each time we were to have sex, I had almost no chance of getting the virus from him.

I also learned that one out of every five American adults has genital herpes. One out of five? Those odds really surprised me; I guess I had never realized how common it is.

I thought more that day and realized that above everything else, he was being completely honest and open with me only days after we first met. He trusted me and cared about me, and I started to like him even more. I knew he was a great person and that’s more important to me than his having an STD, one that he got because of somebody else’s mistake. He hadn’t been unsafe; it’s not his fault he got the virus. I could easily overlook the fact that we wouldn’t be able to have sex without condoms. It was only a minor problem, and not one worth ending something that had the potential to be really great.

And so, months after that initial conversation, I’m still with a boyfriend who has herpes. We have sex, and often, but we use a condom each time. Even though it’s not ideal, it’s what we have to do to keep us both safe.

He’s only had two minor outbreaks in the three months we’ve been together and while they were inconvenient, it didn’t prevent us from having fun and enjoying each other. Because we couldn’t have sex, we had to be creative and find other ways to please each other (which are great even when he doesn’t have an outbreak.)

The bottom line is that he’s an incredible person and his condition doesn’t change that. Our relationship is strong and a lot of that is due to our ability to go through something like this together.

It’s refreshing to be with someone who not only cares about himself, but who also cares about me and my health. In college, we are reckless with our bodies – we have unprotected sex and don’t think about the bigger picture. We never think we’ll get infected with something, but why?

We’re not invincible: people really do get herpes and have to live with it. And while living with herpes isn’t too difficult or distressing, there are other STDs that are, and also ones that can really hurt us and our potential partners.

So I have to wonder, What’s the point? Be good to yourself and take care of your body, and make sure you know who you’re sleeping with.

– “Forks and Spoons” is written anonymously by a News staff member or News correspondent and presents a single student’s perspective of a topic that deals with sex and relationships during college.

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