I had always practised safe sex, but contracted genital herpes eight years ago. Following my diagnosis my world folded, and I stayed with the man I contracted it from for months because I thought nobody else would want me.
I have the less severe type of herpes, which is difficult to pass on. If a partner already gets cold sores, then it is next to impossible for them to contract the virus again through sex. All this should make me feel better, and it does – until I meet someone I like. Then rational thinking goes out of the window. I begin every new relationship with massive anxiety and a fear of rejection.
Sometimes I tell new partners that I carry herpes simplex virus 1, but not the location, so legally I have done my job. They probably just think I mean cold sores. If they say they get cold sores, too, I rationalise that they already carry the virus, meaning there is no risk – so why bother turning it into a bigger deal than it is?
But the secret crushes me; I can’t relax, I tense up every time we have sex, my anxiety spirals and I check myself for symptoms constantly.
Mostly, I hate that I don’t accept myself enough to think that anyone will want me, that my worth hinges on a pesky cold sore I get a couple of times a year.
So now, recently single again at the age of 38, I’ve made a promise always to disclose fully in future; for them, for my own mental health and to come anywhere close to achieving trust and intimacy with a partner.
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