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What no one ever tells you about genital herpes: my personal experience

Number 1: Even if you use a condom every time, even if your partner and yourself have tested negative on every STD test taken, you can still get genital herpes.

81 % of those infected with HSV-2 aged 14-49 show no visible signs (asymptomatic), have no idea they are infected, and test negative on typical STD screens, according to the CDC. And false negatives on herpes blood and culture tests are very, very common. Asymptomatic shedding of the virus from dead skin cells can infect another person, whether or not you use protection.


Number 2: Unless you only had 1 partner in you entire sexual history, it is impossible to tell whom gave you the illness with 100% certainty. You could have gotten it from your first sexual partner when you were fifteen, and not have a breakout until you are 35. The person who gave it to you may never have had an outbreak in their lives. As I mentioned above, it's called asymptomatic shedding, the virus is in the dead skin cells. These are not all covered by condoms, although condoms do greatly help prevent the spread of the disease. Oh, and to complicate things even more, the person who gave you the disease may only have an outbreak after you get an outbreak, even though they had it first.

Number 3: It has no cure, and the three main antivirals prescribed for genital herpes — Valtrex (valcyclovir), acyclovir, and famcyclovir — may help you, or may not help you at all. These drugs, even in their maximum dosages, had absolutely no benefit to healing or preventing my genital herpes outbreaks.

Number 4: The first outbreak is the WORST. It can last up to 6 weeks. We are talking raging burning discomfort, every step you take your vagina is on fire sort of pain. We are talking bursting into uncontrollable sobbing pain, sleeping with an ice pack between your legs it hurts so much. For multiple weeks, that ice pack was between my legs. IT FUCKING HURTS PEOPLE.

Number 5: The first YEAR is the worst. You may get one outbreak after another, for months on end. The first one heals, then a week later? BOOM. There it is again. Secondary outbreaks last shorter amounts of time, but still suck ass. Your doctor may put you on a daily regimen of Valtrex or Acyclovir. This may not help you AT ALL. Didn't help me.


Outbreaks can be caused by stress, by lack of sleep, poor diet, or by merely the time of your cycle and the hormone variances that come with it. Just having ovaries can make you break out.

After the first year, your body develops its own antibodies which suppresses the frequency of breakouts. I know a woman who only had one breakout in her entire life, and I know women who have had many many breakouts.


Number 6: Your herpes might not look like herpes at all. You may go to the doctor and they may not be able to diagnose it as herpes, or may mis-diagnose you. Why? Because often it can manifest in women as A PROLONGED YEAST INFECTION that lasts a month or more, and doesn't seem to go away even with treatment. It may manifest, like mine, initially as something resembling an infected cut down there, no bumps initially at all (the bumps for me came a few days later). By the time you go to the doctor for a culture, it may come back negative for genital Herpes, even though, in fact, you actually are positive. Same holds true for blood tests. You can test false positive, or false negative, over and over, whether or not you exhibit the classical signs of herpes. You can have the disease for years, and still test negative. Herpes likes to hide.

Also, and this is not joke, your typical 'full STD/STI screen' given at clinics such as Planned Parenthood, non-profit community clinics, and even the behemoth Kaiser Permanente of California DO NOT SCREEN FOR HERPES-2 AT ALL. Not at all. And they don't tell you this. They will just say, oh, you tested negative for all STI's, not telling you that they never bothered to test for Herpes. I swear to you this is the truth. You can even demand a separate blood test, and be turned away. This actually happened to me at Kaiser. Ridiculous.


Number 7: It is far, far, FAR worse for women then for men. Vaginas are warm, moist, delicate, thin-skinned things, and sexual intercourse causes small microscopic tears through which he disease can enter, all of which make herpes spread more readily and more difficult and painful to heal. The comparative thicker, and more importantly DRIER surface of a man's penis makes healing go much faster for them. My first outbreak took over 4 weeks to heal. My male partner? 3 days. Life is truly unfair.

Number 8: You partner may never admit that they probably with 99% certainty (remember, unless you only had one sex partner, there is no 100% when it comes to Herpes) gave you this (as he was the only one whom you ever went without a condom or dental dam with), may never have the balls to own up to that fact, may blame YOU for not forcing him to use a condom, and may treat you like a leper, may never want to have sex with you again. They may be repulsed by you, even though they have the disease too. Your partner, who also has an outbreak, may not be very sympathetic or supportive towards you at all, may openly wonder why you are laying beside him in tears, unable to sleep because of the pain, and fed up that every other time he touches you your in pain for days afterwards. You may be stuck with hundreds of dollars of medical bills, while he has none. It is a strain on any sort of relationship. Your pain, and more infuriatingly, your suffering, is uniquely your own.


Number 9: Yes, Herpes is ridiculously common, lots of people live with it. But when it happens to you, knowing you are one amongst many is cold comfort.

Number 10: Do not try masturbating when you have an outbreak. Just trust me on that one. And even after it clears up, you still will be quite sensitive down there. This is especially difficult when you are feeling horny, lonely and sexually rejected, and cannot sleep because of the outbreak. It makes for long, restless nights.


Number 11: You may have it now, or your partner may have it now, and you have no idea. You may never ever get a classic outbreak, but be spreading it to your partner. It is believed that anywhere from 1 in 6 to one in 4 Americans have genital herpes, and the rate may be higher. Lots and lots (we are talking up to 81%) of these people have NO IDEA that they have it. And remember, condoms and dental dams help stop the spread for sure, but they are NOT 100% effective. YES, YOU CAN GET HERPES EVEN WITH PROTECTION!!! Plenty of folks get herpes who have always used protection. In fact, there is a study that showed that the prevention rate of contracting herpes with proper usage of condoms is around 30%, significantly and shockingly low, much lower than for any other STI (excluding HPV). It's just the risk you take when you have sex. And why didn't anyone ever tell me this?

Number 12: Yes, there is love and sex after Herpes. And yes, your experience may vary wildly from my account. But I strove to include everything that is factual, everything that I wished someone had told me about Herpes years ago. I have had this for 2 months now with no end in sight for some time, and it has been an absolute nightmare, and quite lonely and frustrating. Nobody talks about it in public, except to make jokes. I'm not a slut, I was celibate for 13 years, I used protection with the very few partners I had, save the one I am with now, because he assured me he was clean (little did he or I know about false negatives and asymptomatic shedding, the lack of real herpes screening in standard STI screens, and he is a registered nurse!). And it has been really really stressful for me, and really interfered with the quality of life and of love. Herpes is a uniquely lonely disease. So I put this article up here in hopes that some of you may commiserate, and that more folks will talk openly, to remove the stigma attached to this disease.

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