Women Lead Pendidikan Seks
May 06, 2016

Between Outbreaks and Heartbreaks: Accepting (Genital) Herpes

Having contracted genital herpes from a sexual partner, she's been trying to accept the fact that she will live with the condition for the rest of her life.

by Jasmine

Yes, I have genital herpes and the outbreaks are painful. It’s also heartbreaking.

The first outbreak happened in February 2016. I admit I had been careless. I had sex with a guy who had slept with dozens of women (I’m number 28) and had multiple sexual partners. Oh, and he wasn’t a big fan of condoms.

Yes, reading, this, you can say that I voluntarily signed up for an STI. But at the time I didn’t think that I would contract an STI. And now I must bear the consequences for the rest of my life, because the virus stays. The virus remains in your body. It’s incurable, and you can infect someone else by kissing or having sexual encounters with them, basically anything involving exchanging bodily fluid.

You probably wonder who I am. Who are the guys I was sleeping with? Who infected me?

I am a 25-year-old Indonesian, currently studying for master’s degree in Europe. I came here in 2014, which is the year my mom told me not to “engage in free sex”. I even remember that moment: it was at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport right before my flight here. I listened to her in my first year. I wasn’t ready to find a new guy anyway; having just broken up with my ex.

But in the summer of 2015, Tinder came like a storm. Tempted by the idea of meeting different guys from a multitude of backgrounds and nationalities, I became an avid Tinder user. All of the men came with their interesting stories. They told me about how John Boehner, former US Speaker of the House, resigned, about how Greek crisis happened, even about cockroaches in Tel Aviv. I also shared Indonesian issues such as the Indonesian 1965 tragedy. The flood of information fascinated and aroused me, at the expense of my sexual health. I was too excited and didn’t think of the risks. 

So how did it happen? Several days after a session with my “friend with benefits” at the time, I noticed a pain between my vagina and anus. Having no idea what it was, I took a picture to see what was going down there. Only one word to describe it: disgusting. There was vaginal fluid all over the place covering swollen red skin. It’s painful to pee and poo. The whole area was painful. I went to the doctor who told me I had contracted herpes. The doctor also said, I might experience recurring outbreaks. She gave me an antiviral drug, Valaciclovir and said that the outbreak would end in about a week.

Herpes is incurable and I can infect my partner even when there is no outbreak, though the possibility of infecting it is low when there is no outbreak. On my walk back home I cried. The guy who had possibly infected me hadn’t been supportive. I called to confide in my closest friend here for hours. I felt slutty. It’s bad enough that I won’t be able to find a future boyfriend back home because I’m not a virgin – now I have herpes too. Fuck!

Lying in bed in my room, I felt that I had failed my life. It took some time for me to fully research about genital herpes and to accept the virus in my body. I also read several internet articles on living with genital herpes; I thanked all the sexual health activists and professionals who wrote them and shared them on the internet. After somewhat accepting it, I called my BFF from my undergrad years and was able to joke about herpes.

“I’m a good girl – with genital herpes,” I told her. We shared a good laugh.

A week later, I found out from the lab test that I have Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV1) in my body. The HSV1 usually causes cold sores, but can also cause genital herpes, unlike HSV2, which only causes genital herpes. HSV1 is also more common and a lot of people in the world have the virus in their body without knowing it. That was the case with the guy who infected me. He didn’t experience any outbreaks, although he had sex with a girl with cold sores before me.

I felt a bit relieved. But the herpes is still there. Right now I’m really close to a very nice guy, but he refuses to even kiss me and to share drinks with me (though he later admitted that it was a silly thing to do: sharing a drink won’t make you infected, since virus can’t live without a host). It’s heartbreaking to be “rejected” because of genital herpes. I had expected this, since I read a blog post about a guy who was rejected multiple times by girls because he had herpes. Still, it doesn’t make me feel better.

Anyway, I have to live with this. I have to accept this, even though I may hate myself later. I also have to live with the outbreaks. The second outbreak had already happened three weeks after the first outbreak. I haven’t told my parents about my condition, but I imagine they will find out later, when I have the next outbreak after I come home.

I didn’t have a full understanding about all the STIs before. Heck, it’s probably because I skipped a lot of PE classes back in high school. For now, I can only pray that the vaccine will be out soon (for my future partner, so I won’t infect him). Or that the cure will be found for me and all the people who live with herpes.

Jasmine is a pseudonym taken by a 25 years old graduate student currently living in Europe. Hoping to go back to Jakarta as soon as possible, she's still unsure of what life will look like later there.