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I have genital herpes and I'm done hiding it

My name is Gayla Baer-Taylor. I began working in STD patient advocacy & sexual health awareness in July 1999. My first blog post was published in March, 2003 and never stopped.

I am your mother, father, sister, brother, neighbor, teacher, coach, waitress, best friend and quite possibly, your physician. I exist in the same society as you, in many ages, races, religions and classes. To look at me, you would never know I harbor a secret, that in a particular situation, I could alter your life as you know it.

thinking woman on bed

My secret? Herpes.

As a person with genital herpes, I live in a constant state of fear, because of the level of ignorance that blankets the world around me. Why is it that one person must live in fear because of the lack of knowledge of another?

The social stigma

Nearly 50 million new cases of herpes are diagnosed each year. Those diagnosed will walk the same dreadful walk, because of a world that forces them to live under a shroud of social stigma. Thoughts will haunt them, leaving them to wonder, "Will this person run from me?" "Will this person mock me?"

Many times, I drew the conclusion that not knowing was better than telling and I, myself, would run. Even though, statistically, you may be hiding the same secret but are afraid to tell.

Over the years, I have been placed in situations that made me feel less-than-human. I was subjected to jokes, hurtful comments and painful ridicule from ignorant people who did not know my painful secret. The ignorance is not confined to the people around me; ignorance has been shown in television shows, by talk show hosts and celebrities.

I had the quality of life yanked out from under me because I was being human. I was ignorant once, and was intimate with a person who had genital herpes. I am no different than you.

So what can you do as a person I may encounter?

Become aware. Genital herpes, while not curable, is treatable. I have armed myself with proper knowledge to keep my body and virus in check. With a certain amount of consideration for the people I may encounter, I can protect you. And while I may not be able to eliminate your risk, I can minimize it tremendously. Understand that, because I have genital herpes, it does not mean I am contagious 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It simply means I may become contagious a few times a year. As long as I take proper care of myself, over time, the frequency of contagious periods greatly reduces. If I am a person with genital herpes and take the time to get to know my body, how it reacts to the virus and what causes outbreaks, and learn to recognize my own set of symptoms, I will be able to reduce the risk even further.

You've seen it before

You have seen many people that bear the symbol of herpes, in the form of a cold sore. Did you judge them? Or did you just assume they have had a cold or flu recently? If so, you assumed wrong. Cold sores are herpes and have nothing to do with a cold or flu. In fact, cold sores are contributing to the vast number of newly diagnosed cases of genital herpes, because people assume oral sex is safe sex.

As a person living with genital herpes, I ask you to learn more about me. You can put me in a position of feeling comfortable enough to speak openly with you about my secret. You can make me feel at ease, knowing that a disclosure, so personal in nature, will not be comparable to the scream scenes in a horror movie where you run screaming in a flight of fear. If you make yourself open enough to let a person confide in you, you will likely learn I am the most honest, caring person you could possibly encounter.

The majority of people living with genital herpes find themselves in their situation by no choice of their own. More often than not, they were the victim of deceptive, cheating partners. Not only do they carry the burden associated with being the victim of cheating, they are left with a constant reminder of their ill-placed trust. In many cases, genital herpes becomes a form of baggage from a former relationship, but in the face of an understanding person, the emotional aspect of that baggage can be eliminated.

Genital herpes can be a secret, carried by most anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. The next person you encounter, could easily be one of us. It is up to everyone, to understand the pervasive nature of this sexually transmitted virus and to develop a knowledge of how it influences the people around us.

Remember, I am your mother, father, sister, brother, neighbor, teacher, coach, waitress, best friend and I just may be the love of your life.

Photo credit: JGI/Tom Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images
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