Lying with speculum, spread on a table in my doctor's office was my place of choice at that moment — the incessant itch and subsequent groin sores appearing the previous week required consultation. My trusted physician informed me that the initial outbreak is always the worst - future episodes tend to lessen in discomfort and duration. Leaving her office with that small solace, plus a prescription, was the beginning of my STD ordeal. I had hoped for news of a cure; it turns out there isn't one for herpes.
At age 39, following a divorce, I recently had met and enjoyed the company of an older, seemingly stable gentleman who did not disclose his STD status. Yes, condoms were employed. I was still concerned about pregnacy, but, obviously, to no avail (re: the herpes) as my luck would have it. This gentleman soon lamented that he could neither enjoy nor endure intimacy with me knowing the news of me catching his hidden affliction and preferred to exit the relationship. Say what? No apologies or explanations. He just changed his phone numbers and moved on. A whirlwind of shock and denial did not permit me to face reality - perhaps as a mode of self-preservation. That is how I see it, now, 20 years later.
In the early days of my recurring malady, I confided in no one, save an infrequent suitor who speedily departed upon my necessary disclosure. How soon does one "disclose"? During a Tim Horton's coffee date? In the middle of a movie? Under the sheets? How about having a few T-shirts printed?
I recall several occasions during the first few years when I still held hope that sympathy and acceptance might prevail. But it quickly became obvious that a sort of "catch 22" was indeed at play: I needed someone new to get to know me, like me and trust me, but, that being done, it always seemed too late as I was branded a fake and yes, a liar, for not disclosing at first conversation that I was not relationship material. Yet, I was duly informed that having done so would have been an immediate deal — ah, date — breaker, and there would have been no date to begin with! I was asked how I could ever expect anyone to be "O.K." with my condition and then advised to learn to knit, play bingo, and forget dating. Seriously. Although I had never, at any time during my hopeful dating, began a move toward sex, I sensed my herpes disclosure inflicted an emotional wound. In one case, I was rudely scolded to the point of being asked if I expected a medal for my honesty; I just cringed and wearily stepped away from the dating scene.
Years ago, I reluctantly queried my college-going daughter for any advice she might muster, but was soon informed: "Mom, no one talks about this thing ... ." Right, this thing no one talks about is silently, secretly passed between younger and older sexually active adults in numbers that only make the statistics when those who "suffer" come forward seeking medical or psychological care. One might only guess the percentage who do not disclose for one fear or another. Check and study any current info on herpes to grasp the scope of only the reported cases.
For quite some time, I did ponder and predict that there could be no happy outcome for me, but, I can now honestly say what I believe I knew all along: This is a malady, like many others, that gives one pause to know they "suffer"; yet, it carries a burden of blame in a society ripe with a fear of such. Where to go from here? How about anywhere I like - as long as I alter my "likes."
Yes, it has changed my body, my habits, and my world. But I became wise enough to know that a new path was in order, a change of course required.
As I go about my life now, unconcerned with dating, relationships, or who will accept me, I realize that I needed me to accept me! I needed me to put myself in the place of (say) those who suffer accidents that alter the courses of their lives prompting different lifestyles. Is this easy? No. Is it necessary? You bet your biopsies! Still, a fleeting instant of question is often lurking behind my glimpse of a might-have-been suitor as momentary longing lends pangs of regret. Me? Mistaken? Should I (too) keep silent? No, honey, I am where I need to be. I hold to being consciously correct and to being a voice of consideration — like I wish someone had been with me 20 years ago.