How can I handle my shame about having herpes?
November 16, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

I have herpes. I am convinced that no one will ever want me again. Please help me deal with this.

I apologize for the length…

Approximately twelve years ago, my ex-boyfriend gave me herpes. I was a virgin when we met. We had only been having sex for about three months when I contracted HSV-1 from oral sex. (This despite the fact that my ex never had anything even resembling a cold sore for the seven years that we were together.) I planned on marrying him, so while I was upset that it had happened, at least I didn’t have to worry about passing it to him.

Well, he dumped me. And for the last five years, I haven’t been intimate with anyone because the shame and stress of having to tell men that I have herpes is too much. I haven’t even told my close friends, because they can’t imagine anyone they know actually having herpes, it’s just something you joke about. My mom and my aunt are the only ones who know and even then it’s only referred to in hushed tones as “my little problem.” I’ve read countless threads, including here, where people proclaim that they would never, ever date someone with herpes; they want to stay “clean” and it's too bad if no one wants to date me. The double standard is ridiculous—I got this from a fucking cold sore and yet I’m someone to avoid because I have the same thing in a different location. Even my ex never considered himself as having herpes, and I know he’s gone on to have several girlfriends and probably never mentioned it to them.

The worst part is, I love sex. I would have it every day if I could. I feel so damaged, like tainted goods. I’m attractive and smart and funny. I know I have a lot to offer someone, but I hold back because of the fear of being rejected. There is so much ignorance about herpes, but I can’t blame people—if I could get rid of it, I would. I’ve only had four tiny breakouts in the last ten years, and it goes away within a day or two. Having herpes never affects my life in any way—except when I think about having to tell someone.

Anyway. I got tired of living without human contact and decided to start dating again. I met a lovely man. He is kind and open-minded. We started seeing each other fairly regularly but were still in the making out/getting-to-know-you stage, so I hadn't initiated the conversation yet. Then he ran into an ex that he hadn’t seen for a few years and within 24 hours he left me to go back to her. I am extremely sad and disappointed--I honestly think that he cared for me and we would probably still be together if not for this accidental meeting. But the thing that devastates me is that I finally thought I had met someone who would be able to accept me. This kind of opened the floodgates and I have been crying for weeks, because I hate having this and I hate that it’s going to be a dealbreaker in my relationships. I live in a small city; the dating pool isn’t great and it’s hard enough to meet someone I click with, let alone someone who is mature enough to accept my situation. I know someone will suggest that I join a herpes dating site, but I can’t bring myself to sign up.

I don’t know what to do. I’ve seriously considered moving to a bigger city, where I would have a better chance of meeting someone else who has herpes. I feel like I am wasting my life and my best years and all I want is to have sex and be in a relationship again. I miss being touched so much. I'm tired of having this hanging over my head. Throwaway email is in case anyone can relate.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

HSV is incredibly common, it is not a deal breaker. Infection rates are something like 65%+ for the general population.

You're not a leper.

I’ve read countless threads, including here, where people proclaim that they would never, ever date someone with herpes; they want to stay “clean” and it's too bad if no one wants to date me.

Well those people are being stupid, if you've had sex outside of a single partner, you've probably been exposed to herpes. This is the reality of the situation.

I've never, ever heard of "herpes dating sites." Inform your partner, wear a condom. If you're not in a monogamous long-term relationship you should always default to assume the person you're with has an STD and you should act accordingly.
posted by geoff. at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have no less than four friends with genital herpes, at least two of whom (I am only in touch with two) are in committed, long-term relationships with smart, beautiful people. Yes, certain people will never, ever date people with genital herpes. Other will never date black people. Or people smarter than them. Or people who do not like action movies. And you know what? These are okay things. It is okay to have preferences or standards or whatever you want to call these things. It is human. However, plenty of people will be assholes about their tastes. You can comfort yourself in the fact that people who are assholes about it are assholes generally and you shouldn't be dating them anyway.

Those people I mentioned? Neither of them are dating people with herpes. However, they were honest about it, they take medication (I think,) they watch for outbreaks and do everything they can to be responsible about it. Don't stigmatize yourself unnecessarily and don't ghettoize your dating. If you move to a bigger city, move there to meet more people generally.

I don't know how the herpes dating sites work, but I refuse to believe that they have a better success rate than something like OKCupid. Herpes doesn't make you into a more or less interesting or beautiful person. And if they do, it may be because of desperation. Of people who were in your position and decided to give up and go with whatever comes soonest. Please do not enter a relationship out of desperation. (Hookups and casual sex are a different story, however.)

Good luck.
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend was in a similar situation but with HPV instead of herpes. She had only had a few sexual partners and the most recent one had given her HPV. She thought her life as a sexual person was over and that no normal person would ever want to be in a relationship with her. But she met me (through an online dating site, in a ruralish area) and we started seeing each other. I was a virgin and wasnt exactly planning on dating someone with an STD, but when she had the talk with me about it before things got to serious, I already knew that I liked her enough that it didn't matter. Were still together and happy, I wouldnt want to date anyone else and Im glad that she put herself out there and found me.

Herpes will be a dealbreaker for some people, but you are only hurting yourself by letting it stop you from finding someone you can be with. There are a lot of things that can make people incompatible or prevent two people from being together in some way, and this really isnt any different than any other one. Just have the talk and hope for the best, if it doesnt work out with one person there are always more guys out there. Dont give up.

I've never, ever heard of "herpes dating sites."

They do exist, although I cant remember the names of any of them at the moment. I think they are not a great idea, but I would never have met my girlfriend if she had used one so I am probably biased.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any other questions.
posted by sickle cell moon at 9:38 AM on November 16, 2010

I have several friends who have herpes, and they're all having active sex lives, in most cases with new partners since they found out, and none of their partners either had herpes when they started dating or has contracted it since (though obviously that's a possibility, and one they're willing to accept!). So, it's totally possible.

There's an immense amount of shame and sex-negativity bound up in the way people respond to STDs, and it comes out most clearly wrt herpes, where most everyone gets cold sores and thinks it's no big deal, but freaks out about genital herpes. It sucks. I kind of can't wait until basically everyone has it so we can stop worrying about it.

You have nothing to be ashamed of. You contracted herpes doing something wonderful that just about everyone does and loves. You are not damaged goods or tainted, but as long as you think/feel like you are, I think it'll hold you back from romantic/sexual relationships. Are you taking any medication to suppress outbreaks and shedding? If not, that may make your life better, and is a solid thing that you can do to reduce the risk of passing it on to a partner. In your shoes, I would also find a sex-positive therapist to help me come to a more zen place about it for myself.

I know it's only moderately helpful to hear this (if at all!), but in a case where someone seems to like you but then changes his mind because of herpes, that's HIS damage, not yours.
posted by rosa at 9:47 AM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know it's not exactly the feel-good thought of the century, but it seems like a lesson you could take from your most recent relationship is that rejection is a risk of romance no matter what. You made a huge step - you reached out to someone and you were feeling like they could be someone you could share this with. You have a choice not to retreat again but to decide that you can believe love is out there for you and when you find the right person it won't be an issue.

I’ve read countless threads, including here, where people proclaim that they would never, ever date someone with herpes; they want to stay “clean” and it's too bad if no one wants to date me.

I just browsed a bunch of threads tagged with herpes and saw a bunch of anecdotes about people with herpes being successful in love and people saying it would not stop them from dating someone, so you are reading selectively and choosing to believe in the bad and ignore the good. I certainly never would have let this factor keep me from being with someone I was in love with, it's so commonplace (the CDC puts the occurrence of genital HSV-2 - by far the prevalent genital herpes - in American women at 1 in 5. I mean, think about that when you look around you). Hetero men report an average number of sexual partners of 6-8. Guess what, most hetero guys will have had a sexual partner with herpes.

Getting out there and taking chances is the only way you can get what you want, and deserve, and what is provably possible for you.

HSV-1 vs HSV-2, just by the by, there is a lot of misunderstanding about this (are you positive you have HSV-1, by the way? Oral to genital transmission isn't unheard of but then neither is an asymptomatic genital HSV-2 carrier transmitting it to his partner. It's not the most important thing but as there are some rare but serious atypical HSV-1 infections it's worth knowing about both).
posted by nanojath at 10:18 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

4 outbreaks in 10 years of HSV-1? I'm going to play devil's advocate and say that you don't even need to have some huge talk about it. Are you even sure you have herpes? Has a doctor tested it? You could just have a bit of vaginal tearing from dryness (which usually heals up in a day or two).

If you really do have HSV-1 chances are that a future partner you find will have it as well, before you even meet them. My boyfirend has had it since he was a child because his mom and dad had it and you know, people kiss thier kids.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:28 AM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Two things: first, people say really awful, hurtful, mean things on the internet, because they don't feel like they're talking to other humans. For instance, here on Metafilter, you'll get the most... outrageous pontificating about how people of the commenter's preferred gender should only look like this or dress like this or wear their pubic hair like so... when I find it tough to believe that that person is so absolutist in real life. There's also an issue where, when you're 23 or whatever, you feel very free to say "I would NEVER date someone with a child from a previous marriage, or who likes cats!" - and then when you're 33 you realize that that's a ridiculous thing to say, what matters isn't the details, it's the heart.

So. Ignore the shit people say on the internet. It's not an accurate reflection of how many men would find this a dealbreaker.

Second, I dated someone who didn't have herpes, but who had a thing he needed to talk about before the making out went too far. His approach was to go on a few dates, make sure he reeled me in with his general hotness and awesome personality, and then say "Um, hey... there's something I need to tell you."

It totally worked. And, since I was curious and asked, I can tell you that it had worked on every girl he'd dated. Nobody had gone "WHAT?!? Forget it, weirdo!"

In your shoes, I would do something similar. Go on a couple of dates, make sure you like the person a lot, and then say "Hey, I need to tell you something. I really like you a lot, but before this goes any further, I need to talk about this minor medical condition..." - and then be prepared with facts to answer questions and concerns.

PS - I have a friend who is pretty open about having herpes. She refers to it as her "annoying skin condition" and it really does not seem like a big deal in her life at all. Tons of people have herpes. I don't think that loving grown-ups hear about it and decide that the person is a leper.

There isn't anything wrong with you. You aren't dirty or broken or unlovable. I hope you can get to a more peaceful place about this. Best wishes to you.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:56 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go get tested if its only in the mouth as a cold sore then stop worrying.

A TON of people get cold sores. more people then actually admit. cold sores on the mouth are common.

IF its cold sores on the mouth you should not worry.
posted by majortom1981 at 11:51 AM on November 16, 2010

It's clear from the context that the asker has genital herpes not oral cold sores.
posted by nanojath at 12:00 PM on November 16, 2010

It's not as uncommon as you assume. Don't let this be the excuse you use to beat down on yourself. There is much more to your self-esteem that a virus. There is much more to your soul, to your person as a whole than your bill of health.

Sorry about your recent heartbreak. Dating can be so tough on the heart. But it's completely worth it. Just don't blame yourself.

A little side note: my cousin is HIV positive. She found true love (he's also HIV positive) and they've been married for several years now. What she had to realize before she could allow herself to love again/allowing someone else to love her: to see herself as a whole, to see that there is so much more to her than a virus.

Good luck and *hug*
posted by Neekee at 1:19 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I agree with what everyone said, and (surprise) I would like to suggest therapy, to work through your deep shame at having this. It's distorting the way you see things, and really really hurting yourself.

You are worth loving. You are worth risking a virus for/taking some precautions ok? There are men out there who will totally totally love and adore you for who you are and even admire you for how strong you have been in dealing with this.

You are worth so much, and this is one little thing that doesn't really affect who you are at all.
posted by Locochona at 2:37 PM on November 16, 2010

Smokers can find love, so can you. The percentage of US adults with herpes is about the same as the percentage of US adults who smoke (another big dating dealbreaker).

"I know someone will suggest that I join a herpes dating site, but I can’t bring myself to sign up."

That was going to be my suggestion until I saw this line.

Anyhow, online dating on non-herpes-specific site still allows for relatively low-stress ways to screen out people who don't want to date someone with herpes. Back in my internet-dating days I often saw people on mainstream dating sites mention their herpes status right in their dating profile, in the same way one would mention whether one smokes or has kids or any other major known common dealbreakers. If you don't want to put it in your (semi-)public profile, then reveal it early in the email exchange, before you meet or otherwise become emotionally invested.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:26 PM on November 16, 2010

Anonymous - Mefi mail me
posted by telegraph at 8:48 PM on November 16, 2010

HSV is pretty common. Don't let it define you. If you're only seeking relationships to bump uglies, you have other issues.

Just me, but were I in this situation, I'd look for a way to make broaching the subject low stress, like a dedicated dating site. But definitely make it something discussed up front.

@geoff.: I've never, ever heard of "herpes dating sites."

You're fucking kidding me. 940,000 hits.
posted by kjs3 at 8:58 PM on November 16, 2010

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