I Got Herpes From My Boyfriend, But I Found A Silver Lining

Illustrated by Tyler Spangler.
By Alex Alexander

My live-in boyfriend and I had been together almost two years. Although he was on a six-month deployment to the Philippines, the relationship felt solid, and when I learned he would be home for a three-day weekend mid-deployment, I was overjoyed.

We had a fantastic visit, and took every opportunity to make up for lost time in the bedroom. But about three days after he left, I started feeling strange. It felt as if my vagina was literally on fire, and obviously, I knew something was terribly wrong.

The pain became unbearable, and I went to see the doctor to get treated. Unfortunately, part of the treatment I received was a lesson in brutal honesty. I'll never forget my doctor's face when she said she would send the skin samples to the lab, but she was certain it would be positive for herpes.

At that moment, I wasn't sure which was worse: the feeling of impending doom as I waited for confirmation that I had an STD, or the lingering pain from having my insides scraped to acquire the lab samples.

I was given oral medications and creams along with instructions, and was told my name would be reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They gave me pamphlets that clearly spelled out the facts, and I was questioned about any other sexual partners he or I may have had.

I assured her that I had not been with anyone else and that we were in a committed relationship, so I was sure he had not been, either. She almost shouted when she told me that my boyfriend had most definitely cheated on me. She said the symptoms are usually only this bad with the first outbreak, and he must have had an active outbreak to spread it to me.

Outbreak?

Outbreak. It was a term I would come to know well over the coming months.

I worried about everything and played all the scenarios out in my head.

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As soon as I hit the apartment door, I ran for the phone. He denied having an STD. He denied cheating. He refused to seek treatment with the military doctor for fear it would go in his records. I couldn't believe it. Later, he admitted that he had experienced blisters on his penis before, but thought it was just from rough sex. Now he tells me.

I wanted to believe him and tried to put the whole thing behind me, but I couldn't totally trust him. There were other signs of cheating, too. But I felt I was a broken woman. Who would want to be with me now that I had an incurable STD? So, an unhealthy relationship became an unhealthy marriage, and we later divorced. Then came the depression. I was resigned to the fact that I would probably be alone the rest of my life because of this disease.

I didn't date much after my divorce.

I buried myself in my work. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a marked woman: a big red "H" around my neck for herpes. I couldn't bear the thought of telling someone I had an STD. What if we broke up, and he told people my secret? I was too embarrassed to even tell my friends.

I worried about everything and played all the scenarios out in my head. If I fell for someone, I was sure he would dump me as soon as I told him about the STD. If he didn't and we stayed together, I might not be able to deliver children vaginally, and would have to explain the need for a C-section to friends and family.

I was resigned to the fact that I would probably be alone the rest of my life because of this disease.

I just wanted to bury myself in the sand and forget about the whole thing, but it was impossible. I had outbreaks when my period came. I had outbreaks when I was stressed. I had outbreaks at the most inopportune times. I thought I'd never lead a normal life again.

Then, after eight years, I met the most wonderful man I've ever known.

I knew I would have to tell him before we were intimate; I needed to let him choose whether he wanted to risk getting infected. He seemed like a great guy but I couldn't blame him if he didn't want to take the relationship any further.

I took a deep breath and finally gathered enough courage to spit out the words. His reaction? "Is that it? That's what you were worried about telling me?" I thought he must not have understood me, so I explained that there is no cure for this.

He told me that he wasn't concerned about it, that he only cared about me. He's an amazing man, and I'm proud to call him the love of my life. We're now married, and I take preventative medicine to reduce the risk of outbreaks. He's still STD free. And we're both madly in love.

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