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Why Herpes Won't Ruin Your Sex Life

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Dear Colette,

my question is a bit "heavy" and I hope you are willing to help me with it, because it is totally messing with my body, my heart, my head, with my confidence, with my ability to believe that it's possible for anyone to ever love me again, or ever want to risk being with me because of the physical and psychological impact. I wish it weren't true, but I have contracted the virus for genital herpes.

And, one of the greatest dichotomies is that the VERY thing, for me, that demonstrates my true love for a man is to have an intimate sexual relationship with him. I've given myself to very few men over the years, and one of these very few men (who happens to be married, but we are in an open relationship together with his wife's consent, we are essentially "friends with benefits"); well, he was someone that I've always believed cared for me. He is someone I've always felt loved me enough to protect me and keep me safe. And yet, he passed this virus onto me. I can't tell you how betrayed I feel.

And what makes this whole situation even worse is that he TOLD me he had it and I didn't take any precautions to protect myself. I am so ashamed. I've even told my friends that "he didn't know he had it" because I can't even admit to myself that I didn't look out for myself the way I should have.

The thing I am struggling so deeply with is that I want to have a partner, a totally exclusive partner, not someone who is married and "allowed" to be with another woman. It has never been my desire to be in a relationship like this. I have many reasons for engaging in this kind of relationship (a very long story) but believe me, it's not my long term choice. I want an exclusive and totally loving relationship with a man who adores me and I him.

But, now that I have this virus, and I am fully aware of the impact it has had on my body (I've had painful symptoms non-stop for months!), my question is, how can I possibly put anyone that I love and care about in this position? How can I risk the health and wellbeing of someone that I love? How can I do to someone what someone else has done to me? This situation feels absolutely hopeless to me. All I wish is that there is something you can say, that can give me a glimmer of hope for the future.

Wrestling with reality,

Mary

Dear Mary,

First. I am so sorry that this has happened to you.

I can only imagine the pain (both physical and emotional), the worry about your sex life being over, the anger (at him and at you) for allowing this to happen, and the stress of symptoms that just won't go away. My heart goes out to you with every ounce of love, compassion and caring that I have. I know that makes little difference to the reality of your situation -- that it changes nothing -- but in some way, I hope you can feel the huge hug I am giving you right now.

Herpes is a BIG Deal

According to DatingWithHerpes.org (DWH.org) about 45-60 million Americans have genital herpes. That's roughly 14-20 per cent of the U.S. population. And this statistic only includes the people who are aware that they have the virus. According to DWH.org "Most people with genital herpes have infrequent, mild, or no noticeable symptoms, and 90 per cent of them are totally unaware that they even have it." And that, according to DWH.org is because "surprisingly, most doctors do NOT include a blood test for herpes even when they are testing their patients for other common STDs."

So, even if you and your partner wait to be tested before having sex -- if you haven't asked for the specific herpes blood test -- there is STILL the risk that one or both of you have the HSV1 or HSV2 virus and don't know it.

A silent virus can spread like wild fire.

Debunking the Myth that Herpes means "You're Dirty"

I want to make this one point very clear. Just because you have herpes does not mean you are "dirty" or "damaged goods."

As you may already know the Herpes virus comes in two different strains HSV1 (oral) and HSV2 (genital). Statistically 60-80 per cent of adults carry the HSV1 virus (in the form of cold sores) whereas 14-20 per cent carry the HS2 virus on the genitals.

According to DWH.org:

HSV1 has become the cause of about 30 per cent of new genital herpes infections -- usually spread via oral sex. It can be spread from one partner to another even when there are NO noticeable symptoms on the part of either partner. Since many people engage in oral sex without the use of condoms or dental dams, getting genital herpes from oral sex is increasingly common.

And the not-so-"funny" thing is, it's more common to be thought of as "dirty" or "damaged goods" if you have HSV2, yet no one seems to mind if it's "just a cold sore."

HSV1 and HSV2 are essentially the same virus -- it's just a matter of where they present on the body.

So, to the aware individual who has done her homework on the Herpes virus, you are no more "dirty" or "damaged goods" if you have HSV2 instead of HSV1. In fact, you not "dirty" either way!

I couldn't risk giving this to someone I love

Mary, I feel that your question about herpes is so critically important because your major concern has to do with the ongoing painful physical symptoms that you've endured and how you could never risk passing this on to someone you love.

This is where I feel a little concerned, and not from a coaching or therapy perspective (that has to do with helping you find a more supportive outlook), but from a physical health standpoint.

I've conferred with my partner Todd (who is a physician) and I've read (as I'm sure you have) numerous websites about the typical symptoms of herpes. None seem to be anywhere as severe as you've described and for that reason, Todd suggested that you may want to consider seeing a specialist: an immunologist.

To address your question about not wanting to pass this painful virus onto someone else, I completely understand. However, I also feel that the pertinent thing to keep in mind here is that the symptoms you are having are not "normal" (without trying to make you feel "abnormal").

According to WebMD.com:

You may never notice symptoms from an HSV infection. On the other hand, you might notice symptoms within a few days to a couple of weeks after the initial contact. Or you might not have an initial outbreak of symptoms until months or even years after becoming infected.
When symptoms occur soon after a person is infected, they tend to be severe. They may start as small blisters that eventually break open and produce raw, painful sores that scab and heal over within a few weeks.

Mary, I feel confident that once you get your symptoms under control you will be able to release the trauma of this painful time in your life. This will then allow you to see herpes for what it really is: an unfortunate occurrence that can be mildly inconvenient at times.

Having the "Herpes Talk"

When and how to reveal the "herpes secret" is a top of mind question for anyone who has contracted the virus. I wish I had the space to cover this topic on this blog post (but I'm already way over). I would however like to bring your attention to a great page I've found called "Telling Someone" on DWH.org. They give excellent advice on how to handle this super sensitive topic.

Talking Back to the Gremlin

The Gremlin, as fellow dating coach Marni Battista likes to call it, is that mean, judgmental, condemning voice inside your head. The Gremlin is responsible for all of your sabotaging thoughts. And Mary, in the case of contracting the virus for herpes, I can only imagine that your Gremlin is yelling at the top of her lungs.

Let's take a look at some more helpful perspectives to the unhelpful judgments of The Gremlin:

GREMLIN: You are so careless! How could you let this happen to you?

YOU: Although it's unfortunate and not something I would ever wish on anyone, it's not the worst thing that could happen. I am still alive and although I'm in physical pain from my symptoms, I know they will eventually subside. When they do, the pain of what's happened won't be so apparent and I can move on with my life. I'm choosing to accept my reality because I can't change it and the stress of wishing I could isn't helping me. I know that stress affects my immune system's ability to fight this virus, so instead of beat myself up over this, I'm going to use this experience as a reminder to love myself more.

GREMLIN: Your sex life is over! Who is going to want to be with you now?

YOU: On first glimpse, I believed this to be totally true. However, I choose to look at this in the most positive light possible. Whereas before I felt free to let attraction to a man take over me, now I have to be more discerning and take my time to get to know him WELL, before I enter into a sexual relationship. This will give me the time I need to screen my partner and be sure he's a great match for me, before we get intimate. And while there is the chance that he may decide to leave, and that will really hurt, I also know that I want a man who will be by my side through thick and thin. If he cares enough he will take the time to understand the risks and the ways in which we can protect him from contracting the virus.

GREMLIN: Yeah but, your sex life is over! How could you ever put someone you love at risk with this?

YOU: While it is true that HSV1 and HSV2 do not have a cure and there is always a risk that the virus can spread, there are things I can do to greatly lower this risk. Suppressive therapy is one way, but in addition to this I am going to make it my mission to know my body so intently that I will know when I am shedding the virus (even before an outbreak). I will choose to make my symptoms a signpost in my life that signifies slowing down, reducing stress, and amping up self-care and self-nurturing. I will abstain from sexual activity with a partner and show myself love instead.

Mary, I know this isn't easy. And once again, I wish there was something I could do to take the pain away.

I do hope that in some way this answer to your question has helped.

Much Love,

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