Struggling Amidst The Taboos: My Life With Herpes

Sunday, 9 August 2020

 “I have herpes!”

The moment I say these three words out loud to a person, rest assured, I know exactly what’s going to come my way — judgment, name-calling, fear, and to some extent, even ostracization.

I have been open about my borderline personality, lichen planus (an autoimmune disease that left me with scars), and being sexually assaulted, abused, and raped. Oftentimes, I have spoken about my struggle with taboos like mental illness, body-shaming, and even being through something traumatic, and had even tried giving a helping hand to people going through something similar.

But this, has been my biggest confession to date, even though it hadn’t nearly affected me as much as the rest of the things I mentioned about did. The reason? Fear of being judged, and fear of being laughed at, and shunned for something I have that I didn’t even want.

Now, a lot of people who know me on a personal level know this fact about me, and that I have been diagnosed a month ago. And yes, the people closest to me were afraid to even come close to me, share a meal, a smoke, or be intimate.

Trust me, it took me months to even accept the fact that I contracted an STI, and that whole journey has been completely filled with hatred. My life was never going to be the same. I still remember how the doctor said, “Sweetheart! I am sorry you have HSV2 (Genital herpes to be precise). And I am sorry that this is something that cannot be cured, and you will be prone to judgment all your life.” Yes, those were her exact words, and it was not a piece of cake for me to swallow.

Any guy that I like, and even likes me back may be afraid to even be intimate with me. And the people that do end up being intimate — though I completely make sure they are well aware of what they are getting into — question me after the deed is done, and I feel dirty, and vulgar. A part of me breaks.

Then there are people who call me a slut, that I might have contracted it because I spent nights with too many people. That I should be ashamed of being a girl that is Indian to have contracted this. Well, news flash! If you’re unlucky, you might actually get it from people you trust the most. And you wouldn’t even know it.

There’s a reason bigger than fear of being judged as to why I didn’t explicitly talk about this. Because I was sick and tired of explaining how it does nothing to the body. There are much worse things out there than Herpes that kill. Herpes involves blisters in the genital area, or cold sores that come and go, like chicken pox, and stay dormant most of the time. It’s just that it’s transmitted sexually. Other than that inconvenience for a few days which go away by taking Valtrax, herpes is nothing, but a taboo. A way to put people down.

But today, I’m letting go of that fear. I don’t care anymore. About explaining to people, about being in fear, about pitying myself, about being called a slut, and about hating myself for having it.

So, let me tell you a few things:

1.     I have genital herpes, and yes, even though the blisters come and then it’s dormant, it’s an incurable condition as the virus stays in my body forever.

2.     Yes, it is transmitted sexually. But not everyone who sleeps with me is not going to get it.

3.     This brings me to point three, if you do end up sleeping with me, do not ask me about the likeliness of the infection being spread to you. I fucking don’t know! No one does. It might be zero percent, or it might be more. You know it’s your choice, so have the decency to not make me feel bad after what is done with consent. It’s not like I’m keeping you in oblivion and forcing you.

4.     Just because I have herpes, doesn’t mean that I got it because I slept around with whomever I see. And just because I have herpes, it doesn’t mean that I’m easy. (Just imagine the number of guys who said they didn’t want to have herpes, but they want to sext with me, and shame me if I refuse.)

5.     Herpes isn’t life-threatening. Hell, it does nothing to your body. Plus it’s so common that almost 60-90 percent of adults are at the risk of contracting it. And most of them who do don’t even show symptoms in their lifetime. So don’t treat me like an untouchable. I am not.

6.     Chickenpox spreads through touch as well. But no one considers it a taboo. But herpes is, since it’s an STI. For a generation that talks about normalizing sex, and is on dating apps looking for casual sex, hookups, and one night stands, take a moment to just think about this. Just because I’m open about my condition, I receive the backlash. Imagine the amount of risk you’re prone to if you are an active part of the hookup and dating culture too. Just think about that.

Lastly, like my BPD, Lichen Planus, and my experience with sexual assault doesn’t define me. Even herpes doesn’t. Harika is so much more than that.

I don’t want any sympathy. I just want minds that are willing to understand, and you know, spread a little awareness of how this is not even remotely a taboo.

Just do this one thing, for me, and many others like me, and I’m grateful!

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