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Yes, I have herpes. No, Iím not a degenerate

May 9, 2016


I was sitting in my doctorís office crying, and I could barely choke it out.

"I think I have herpes," I said between sobs.

I can still feel the paper on the exam table. I recall the chilly breeze and how vulnerable I felt with my feet in stirrups. I can picture the ceiling I so acutely examined while waiting for my results, which confirmed my fear. And I remember the slight comfort I felt when my doctor told me that her office is a safe space and that I could cry all I wanted.

After picking up a prescription, I walked back to the train in a daze. I felt ruined. How could I have let this happen? Iíve been a safe-sex advocate for years. I took classes on sexual health. I interned at Planned Parenthood. And I know that we had used a condom.

Amid all the frustration and pain, I felt soiled. Though my outward appearance hadnít changed, I felt ugly. I thought no one would ever love me, or even sleep with me, again. And I was pretty sure I was going to die alone.

But slowly I started feeling better emotionally. Months passed, and eventually I stopped feeling so dirty. I read as much information as I could find, and I immersed myself in social media and blog posts by people in my situation.

When I told my friends, I found encouragement and support.

And I found out that Iím not in this alone.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common. About one in six people ages 14 to 49 have herpes, and virtually all sexually active people have human papillomavirus, or HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 1.4 million cases of chlamydia were reported in 2014. The CDC also estimates that there are about 20 million new STIs in the United States each year.

STIs are so common that sometimes I forget about the massive stigmas attached to them.

Leave it to Internet trolls to remind me.

Recently, #ShoutYourStatus was trending on Twitter. People with STIs used the hashtag to connect with one another for support. It was meant to be a way to talk freely about STIs, but it didnít take long for the harassing trolls to take over.

I was called a degenerate, a ho and an idiot. From the safety of their keyboards and identifiable only through their Twitter handles, they labeled me disgusting, gross, stupid and fat. According to them, I should never be allowed to spend time with children. They told me I deserved an STI because Iím a promiscuous whore, a "disease-riddled c ó" One even told me I deserved "a (expletive) firing squad."

I received abusive tweets for days afterward. In the span of four days, I blocked 50 people on Twitter. The amount of hate and disdain was unlike anything Iíd ever experienced. A few other women I know who are outspoken about their STI conditions made their accounts private to protect themselves.

But ultimately, the troll approach backfired. Their goal to hurt me or silence me didnít work. All it did was reinforce the fact that STI stigma is real. Their scorn made me want to speak up louder than ever before.

So, to others with STIs, know this: You have worth. You are deserving of love. You are more than your diagnosis. And youíre not a bad person because you have an STI.

Some days youíll feel OK. Other days youíll feel as if the world is caving in on you. But youíll make it through. Lean on the people who love you. Join a support group. Go to therapy. Allow yourself to be happy again. I know itís difficult, but most times the stigma is worse than the infection itself.

The best way to prevent STIs is to educate people, and that means talking about it. So please, donít let anyone silence you, whether itís in person or online. And donít listen to the people who say hurtful things ó especially the trolls.

 

 


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