- ‘My Experience’: Michelle learns genital herpes is nothing to be ashamed of
- More information on genital herpes
- More information on protecting against sexually transmitted infections
- More information on the female urogenital system
Michelle, or ‘Shell’ to her mates, is a savvy Aussie woman, but when it came to sexually transmitted infections, she never thought she would pick one up. While it took a couple months to get over the shock, Shell says she’s no longer embarrassed. So she wants to let others know that genital herpes is common and easily manageable.
And it doesn’t mean you can never have sex again.
STIs: Not just long-distance phone calls
Like most single 30-somethings, Shell has a busy work schedule, a happening social life, and a healthy sexual appetite.
“I was waiting for Mr Right at the time and I was just having fun being young and single,” Shell says.
“I always used condoms in my early 20s but as I got older, I must admit, I got a bit slack.
“Looking back, I see I was playing Russian roulette with my favourite body part!
“I was embarrassed about this and felt like it was a rookie mistake, until I finally spoke to some friends and found out they had gotten quite slack on safe sex too.
“Now I just tell them my story, luckily, I may be able to prevent a mate from getting an STI.
“Getting herpes might be a slap in the face, but it’s nothing compared to catching HIV, so it’s an important lesson to learn because it could have been much, much worse.”
Getting hot down Mexico way
Shell says the first symptoms she noticed weren’t in her pants at all. In fact, she didn’t even realise it had anything to do with an STI.
“One day I felt really weak and started getting tonsillitis,” she says.
“The next day I woke up very sick with another nasty surprise.”
“But both started getting worse!” she says.
“After the first day of seeing the little blisters, I was in complete denial and told myself I just had thrush.
“Then by the third day, the blisters were white and they felt like they were burning. At one stage, the stinging was so bad I needed to put ice on them.”
Shell started looking up the symptoms on the internet and found advice explaining that the simultaneous onset of tonsillitis and weeping, white blisters on the genitals characterises the first bout of genital herpes.
“At the time, I was too embarrassed to talk to my friends, but luckily the internet had all the information I needed.
“I couldn’t stay in denial any longer so I bit the bullet and went to my doctor.
“I was completely terrified. Looking back, I realise that it’s normal and okay to be scared.”
Doctor, it burns when I pee!
Shell was initially scared of what the doctor would say but then realised he was “totally cool”.
“He made me feel better immediately. He had a look and told me that while he would need to send a sample to pathology, it did appear to be the onset of a bout of herpes.
“He was so relaxed and calm that I even finally stopped crying.”
Shell’s GP explained to her that it is nothing to be embarrassed about because many people are affected by STIs. In fact, genital herpes is the second most common STI in Australia, with one in eight people being infected.
And if the ladies feel alone, there is no need. Genital herpes is actually twice as common in women as it is in men.
“Now I realise that’s why there are so many posters and awareness campaigns for safe sex! We need to use condoms and stop spreading it to our partners.”
Sweet relief just got sweeter
When Shell returned to her GP, he gave her the confirmation – and, according to Shell, the “greatest box of tablets” she had ever held.
“I was just so happy to have a label on what I had, because when you don’t know what’s happening in your knickers, you freak out.
“The doctor gave me a medication that suppresses the herpes simplex virus.
“But it’s important for people to know that while your symptoms may thankfully never return, you still carry the dormant virus, so you must be aware that you can still pass it on.
“Initially, this made me so sad, but now I know that managing it just means taking your pills every day if you continue to be sexually active. I’ve never even had a bout since.”
The most important part of having any STI, according to Shell, is communicating.
“We need to take away the stigma, so people can feel free to tell their future sexual partners,” she says.
“I’ve told all my partners since, and no one has ever had a problem. We just ensure we practise safe sex.
“And guess what? Since then, I met a gorgeous man who loves me. So I did find Mr Right.”
As Michelle’s story shows, you can still pick up dates – just avoid the STIs with safe sex, because you want your heart to burn, not your undies.
For more information on genital herpes, including risk factors, statistics, progression, diagnosis and treatment, see Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV; Cold Sores, Genital Sores, Genital Ulcers).
For more information on different types of sexually transmitted infections, prevention of STIs, treatments and effects on fertility, see Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The female urogenital system consists of all the organs involved in reproduction and the formation and release of urine. For more information, see Female Urogenital System.
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