Pass it on

I’ve done something very stupid and irresponsible.

There’s no excuse for it: I knew the itch around my bottom wasn’t piles, and I suspected it was more than just a spot, and I should have told him the full extent of the risk involved, and let him decide if he wanted to continue. I didn’t.

For the first time in my life – and as a supposedly responsible and sex positive adult – I’ve given someone herpes.

*

I got herpes in my 20s. Like a surprisingly large proportion of people in Britain and Japan who have it, I have the version associated with oral sores, just it affects my genitals.

I never held anything against the man who gave it to me, at least not for that. He had no signs – not even the telltale tingle. We next saw each other a few days after transmission must have occurred; it was only then that he was talking about the prickle starting and stocking up on Zovirax to head off the sore. By that point the tops of my thighs felt like they were being stroked by lasers whenever anything touched them, and I had an increasingly painful itch in my knickers.

Two days later the sensation was of razor blades being drawn across the whole of my groin, and the glands in my pelvis were swollen and insanely tender. I knew from A Level Biology years earlier that I had glands there, but they’d never felt the need to prove their existence to me before.

There was nothing I could do to ease the pain, which flared every time I moved.

I had no idea what genital herpes looked like or whether it was possible to get it from a mouth sore. I’d like to say going online put me right very quickly, but while all the information I needed was there, these were the days of dial-up.

As those images of blistered, crusting, extremely sore looking vulvas downloaded painfully (ahem) slowly onto my monitor, it didn’t take me long to realise that what was happening in my pants was going to get worse before it got better.

As soon as I had an afternoon off work, I hotfooted it to my local genito-urinary clinic, where I didn’t have to try to make an appointment, didn’t have to worry about the doctors and nurses recognising me, and had some consolation in the knowledge from my brief foray online that what was going on down there would be considerably less disgusting than it would be for some of the other cases in the waiting room.

The doctor didn’t even have to get my knickers down before she nodded and confirmed my suspicions. There was a lovely blister just inside the crease of my thigh and groin that she spotted as I pulled my trousers off. “I’m still going to have to do the full screen and take a swab,” she apologised, and suggested I grab the sides of the bed. It would help, she said.

That dealt with my hands, but she forgot that being between my legs, she was still in a vulnerable situation; I nearly kicked the poor woman for all her efforts to be gentle with that cotton bud.

She gave me a five day course of acyclovir tablets, a couple of really good leaflets, and the web address of the Herpes Virus Association.

Her understanding and non-judgemental approach gave me a bit of fallback over the next week or so when I told a couple of friends, and the boy who’d infected me, to be greeted with very different reactions.

The boy was apologetic but still a bit put out that I wouldn’t, well, put out. We had a nice, somewhat stilted, short chat, then he went home.

One of my best friends decided to gen up on herpes with me, partly out of support and partly out of curiosity. He also hadn’t realised how easy it was to pass it from mouth to genitals. For some reason, though, he decided that my infector had HSV2 orally, because HSV1 was too weak to have the kind of impact I’d described.

Another friend looked shocked and asked why I hadn’t insisted on a condom. I said again that as far as I knew, the cock in question was virus-free – and, more importantly, had been nowhere near my genitals, but his lips had and they were symptom-free but gearing up for an outbreak. My friend said “ah”, but she didn’t look convinced.

*

Not having had sex for long periods of time has effectively meant that I haven’t had to worry about it.

In the relationship with the boy who wanted me to agree to sex at least once a month regardless, herpes was clearly just another excuse – but one he wasn’t keen to risk being wrong about.

So when I found myself wondering why I was so bothered about how the man I’ve infected would react if I said he couldn’t touch me, it didn’t take long to work it out.

It’s still deeply ingrained in me that boys who are interested rapidly lose interest or start an argument if I say no.

How damaged am I still that I feel like that – and with a man who’s shown he can take the darker side of me?

We’ve talked about fantasies, things one of us has thought about but the other hasn’t really considered before, the stuff we know we don’t enjoy, admitted when we don’t feel we can cope with an idea. But saying no to sex as a whole still feels so difficult and wrong I couldn’t do it.

It’s not just ourselves we hurt when we don’t speak up, it’s other people.

*

I felt bad about not being able to say no. I felt awful about not telling him the full extent of the risk I was exposing him to.

Then he started to show the other signs of the virus – generally feeling like crap, being a bit feverish, the glands, unexplained misery, and so on – and I felt worse than I can remember feeling in my entire life.

I’m used to depression. I’m used to knowing on some level that even when they’re telling me how easy it would be to step off the kerb in front of that bus, the demons in my head are usually acting out because they want and need attention too.

If I stop and give them a bit of time and patience, sit in a safe place with them and a pot of tea, they calm right down. They’re all me, and they’re mostly bluster.

They’re nothing compared to real, earned, guilt.

I’ve had it brought back to me – up close and personal – how horrific being infected was.

After the first year, when I had a couple more flare ups – each magnitudes less painful than the last – I’ve had less than one noticeable attack per year. For me, after more than a decade, herpes is little more than a very occasional, slight, nuisance.

I know about being asymptomatic – and combined with my lack of obvious outbreaks, I’ve always figured I had more chance of passing it on while completely oblivious.

But that first outbreak – and the fear I felt during that first year when I got the warning flames-across-my-thighs again, before I realised the strength of the attacks was lessening – I couldn’t knowingly bring that upon someone.

And yet I did.

I feel stupid, selfish, and full of self loathing for being so scared and weak.

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3 thoughts on “Pass it on

  1. Pingback: The long goodbye | The Shingle Beach

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