I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what holds me back from disclosing my status to certain people or in certain situations. About why nearly every time a badass article about herpes is posted on the internet, it’s published anonymously. About why even among well-intentioned, radical folks who talk about body acceptance and validity of experience and self, STIs are ignored, misunderstood and even demonized.
I want to see these things change, and my own growth is a part of that process - both as a means and an end. So I started writing down things that hold me back or have held me back in the past, with the hope that identifying these obstacles will help in confronting them. I imagine a lot of things on this list are not unique to me…and I also invite people to add to it!
- being essentialized (“that girl with herpes” / “that herpes writer”)
- being blamed/moralized and therefore my “plight” not being taken seriously (was i practicing safe sex? how many people did i sleep with before i contracted an STI? i should’ve known better, i could’ve prevented it)
- being mocked or laughed at (this is obvious. herpes jokes are everywhere. i have been laughed at, to my face, when presenting my work on STIs)
- making other people uncomfortable. like literally, i’m afraid that when i say i have herpes, the person i’m talking to might feel awkward and not know what to say, and that will in turn make me feel awkward/obligated to make things less awkward. which isn’t true, but is a fear.
- they will respond with ignorant questions, and i will legitimately feel on the spot and uncomfortable. (for example: being asked if we can still share a toilet, or if this means i can still have sex, or if they should be cautious around me)
- being asked inappropriate questions about my sex/romantic life
- fearing that a partner will be made fun of or shamed for dating me, that assumptions will be made about them
- fearing that people will ask a partner inappropriate questions about me or our sex life
- if i post my birth name on the internet in connection with my status, future employers/opportunity-providers might see this and discriminate against me
- being questioned if i’m fit to work with children, by employers, parents or other people
- having a reputation that precedes me, particularly a reputation for something that is considered embarrassing/disgusting by society
- being pitied
- worrying that future romantic and/or sexual prospects would be diminished. (as it stands, i have never been rejected by someone because of having HSV, but what if that’s just because they already liked me when i told them? my fear is that if someone knew ahead of time that i have an STI, they would be less likely to hang out with me or initially crush on me and therefore less likely to take the risk later on)
- being subjected to a double standard or expected to take certain precautions in my sex life that perceived- or assumed-negative folks are not. being judged for my decisions
- my perspectives on sexuality, health, consent, politics, etc. being dismissed because of my status/personal interest in the matter (“oh she’s just saying that because she has herpes”)
- doctors or service-providers thinking i am irresponsible or uneducated, that i can’t take care of myself or don’t understand concepts around health
- being used as a lesson for negative folks
- once i put the information out there, no longer being able to control it, and therefore feeling a loss of power/autonomy because of it
- being told to get over it, that it could be worse
- not being able to take it back after i’ve said it
Shoutout to all those people living with STDs or STIs and leading full, healthy, meaningful lives in the face of many more obstacles and prejudices.
I’ve lost track of how I felt and how I still feel about herpes. I get so uncomfortable when people just say “Aren’t you glad you don’t have an STD?” At least it’s not herpes! That’s not encouraging to hear at all when you yourself have an STD. I will never understand how comparing your pain and making it better than someone else’s is a good thing. Yeah, that person isn’t pregnant, but at least she’s not like me and has a disease she didn’t want. No, that’s absolute trash.
I don’t regret the choices I made. I wasn’t sleeping with the entire world to get herpes. I chose to be sexually active. I was protected and the protection was not good enough. He was asymptomatic, so there was no chance I could have known first anyways. I was blamed for being a slut because my ex-boyfriend couldn’t handle that I did not want him anymore. I was branded a cheater when I had sex with someone when I was single. I was emotionally abused and sexually harassed and you wanna talk about how great it is that you’re not pregnant and don’t have an STD. Fuck you. You don’t know half the stories hear. You don’t understand how we feel. Would you say “well at least it’s not cancer” in front of a cancer patient? Then why do that in front of anyone for that matter.
Watch what you say. Be kind to others. Be considerate. Gain some knowledge.
Sorry I have so many questions, I’m just still so new to this.
in my experience, YES! things that have made it possible:
Since 1977, the FDA has banned all men who have ever had sex with another man from ever donating blood. But in recent years, countries like the U.K. and Canada have lifted similar bans, recognizing the inherent and unfounded homophobic stereotypes of these laws. And based on the new research findings, it’s time for the U.S. to do the same.
So something that I’ve been feeling super emotional about since my diagnosis is my total lack of sexual drive. I have always been a very sexual person, and being connected to my sexuality has been an important part of my life for so long. I just like don’t even have the desire to even think about…
Okay. I went through exactly the same thing when I was just diagnosed. Even though my boyfriend was accepting beyond belief and wanted to have sex with me, I couldn’t bear the thought of him touching me or even coming close to me. I didn’t even let him hug me. And it wasn’t the thought of it being him who gave it to me (I actually really hoped it was him because I love him) that was turning me off, it was the thought of myself. I felt disgusting.
This blow came at the worst possible time for me, sexually. I had just turned 21 and was finally feeling comfortable with my body and my sexuality. I loved sex. I loved the power it gave me. I had two relationships in which I was completely used and dismissed after they became bored of having sex with me. Both of them always told me to leave their homes after sex. I didn’t know any different. And now I was with someone who adored me and adored having sex with me for the right reasons, suddenly that was taken from me. I felt crushed. I never wanted to have sex again.
So here’s how I dealt with it:
- I phoned a sexual health counsellor. I didn’t want to but I was losing my mind and becoming stupidly obsessed and depressed over this thing. She was great. She explained how trivial it was, how normal it was to ‘grieve’ your sexual freedom but that in actuality you’re in the majority having a form of herpes, not the minority. I strongly recommend phoning someone for a quick chat (I kept her talking for about 20 minutes because I was so worked up but I reckon most conversations are a bit shorter).
- Buy some really, really nice underwear. Treat yourself to something ridiculously sexy but simultaneously classy. Something you feel sophisticated, empowered and seductive in. Wear it as often as you can.
- Dress up every day. It doesn’t matter where you’re going. Dress up. Make yourself look gorgeous. Do your hair, your makeup. Wear some heels if you want to. It doesn’t matter. Make yourself look and feel great.
- Touch yourself. Even if you don’t want someone else to touch you yet, treat yourself. It breaks you back into sexual feelings without the immediate negative thoughts of “am I going to transmit this, do they think I’m disgusting” that you’re likely to have so soon after your diagnosis. Get used to feeling sexual pleasure again. You might not feel like it for a while, but just keep doing it. It trains your mind to think of it as normal again, and not something you shouldn’t be doing (that is the stigma talking).
It took me over a month after my diagnosis to have sex again, but by that time my boyfriend was so pleased that he was getting some action I almost forgot I had herpes because he was so into it. I know exactly how you feel, but you’ll get there! x
this rules. anybody else have suggestions for how to reclaim your sexuality / sex drive post-diagnosis?
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS:
*PLEASE READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES IN FULL*
Collide is a compilation zine on the intersection of physical and mental illness.
Seeking personal essays and relevant artwork for:
Collide #3: Family
Possible topics include:
- How your physical or mental health impacts your relationships with family- those you were born into, your spouses, partners, siblings, parents, children, or your chosen families and strongest support systems
- Genetic inclinations- dealing with hereditary illnesses, family health issues, or concern over passing these things on
- Family support or lack thereof in times of poor health or wellness
- Other topics related to the topic of family (chosen or otherwise) as they relate to your illnesses
Collide is a zine on the intersection of physical and mental illness. Contributors will vary in experience and identities, but must have a history dealing with both a chronic physical illness or disability, and a mental health issue in some respect.
- Essays may focus on one affliction over another, but should involve at least some mention of both, and may be rejected at the editor’s discretion because they do not apply to both categories, or for any perceived sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, or classism.
- Essays should fall generally between 750-2,000 words. I may edit your submission for the purposes of grammar and clarity, but will clear any changes with you before publication.
- I won’t be accepting any poetry submissions for this zine.
- For those submitting relevant artwork, it will be half-sized and printed in black and white.
Deadline: November 15, 2014
Please submit your essay with a short bio to:
jennyandthelibrarians @ gmail .com
(ps- if you are not familiar with past issues, check out their overviews on etsy)
One of the conversations Fred and I had on our last night together was about Valtrex and herpes and all that jazz. He said he found it interesting that when he told his friends from home (aka less liberal, less informed than his college friends) that his girlfriend had herpes, their reactions were far less shitty when he stressed just how common herpes was. He said they were more likely to judge and be assholes when he talked about how easy it was to prevent transmission. Framing herpes as normal and no big deal decreased the stigma; framing herpes as preventable kept it as this scary thing.
Which makes a lot of sense, actually. I mean, think about it. When Fred told them he was ready to get the virus because it wouldn’t impact his life much and he thought I was worth it, that made him look brave as fuck and challenged the way they understood herpes. When he said “she has herpes but it’s okay, I won’t get it,” that scared them.
This is part of why I’m officially off Valtrex and have been for about a month. Maybe Valtrex does lessen the risk of transmission. Fred’s blood tests all came back negative, so nine months of unprotected oral sex didn’t transmit the virus. But the side effects (hot flashes, getting dizzy and tired more than normal, having a super low tolerance for alcohol) aren’t worth the peace of mind. And I’m done pitching myself to sexual partners as a risk that we can minimize, as opposed to an awesome person who cares about them and will discuss what is right for us both.
Maybe I’ll change my mind
ifwhen I start to date again, but for now I’m on Team Common.
YES. Yes yes yes.
You know what there really, REALLY needs to be though? More characters with sexually transmitted infections. I’ve never actually told anyone this but I have personally dealt with an STI. It was a couple of years ago, everything is fine now, I’m not going to say what it was. But it was terrifying and humiliating and stressful. And usually in the media when there’s a mention of STI’s, it’s usually like “eww glad that’s not me” or being used as the butt of a joke, or being used as a way to dehumanize someone. I want a show to legitimately face this issue and not make fun of it and show that yes, you can have safe sex and still get infected, no you’re not a bad person if you get infected even if you had unprotected sex, yes some STI’s are incurable but your life is still important and worth living, here’s how to talk to your partners about STI’s, here’s how to get tested, et cetera. I want a show to actually deal with this instead of just reducing people with STI’s to some other, bad, less valuable category of people for us to laugh at.
It’s actually uncommon to not have HSV, rather than the other way around. If you’ve kissed 2 or more people, you’ve already kissed someone with HSV, whether you knew it or not. If you’ve had sex with 4 or more people, you’ve already had sex with someone with HSV, whether you knew it or not.
In essence, most people carry the virus, but only a few people realize it. So, the next time you hear someone say they are HSV+, just know that they aren’t different because they have HSV—they’re different because they’re aware that they have HSV. Nothing more, nothing less."
Remember Risug? HSH Posted it awhile back as the one if the best birth controls for folks with prostates. A lot of folks wondered the same thing I did, When would we have it?? Well never fear folks! Follow available below. GET EXCITED. Non invasive cheap birth control for non ovary bearing folks is here (soon)! (Disclaimer: Uses cis language)
Male Birth Control, Without Condoms, Will Be Here by 2017Vasalgel, a reversible, non-hormonal polymer that blocks the vas deferens, is about to enter human trials. How will rhetoric change when male bodies become responsible for birth control?
Vasalgel, a reversible form of male birth control, just took one step closer to your vas deferens.
According to a press release from the Parsemus Foundation, a not-for profit organization focused on developing low-cost medical approaches, Vasalgel is proving effective in a baboon study. Three lucky male baboons were injected with Vasalgel and given unrestricted sexual access to 10 to 15 female baboons each. Despite the fact that they have been monkeying around for six months now, no female baboons have been impregnated. With the success of this animal study and new funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Parsemus Foundation is planning to start human trials for Vasalgel next year. According to their FAQ page, they hope to see it on the market by 2017 for, in their words, less than the cost of a flat-screen television.
So how does Vasalgel work? It is essentially a reimagining of a medical technology called RISUG (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) that was developed by a doctor named Sujoy Guha over 15 years ago in India, where it has been in clinical trials ever since. Unlike most forms of female birth control, Vasalgel is non-hormonal and only requires a single treatment in order to be effective for an extended period of time. Rather than cutting the vas deferens—as would be done in a vasectomy—a Vasalgel procedure involves the injection of a polymer contraceptive directly into the vas deferens. This polymer will then block any sperm that attempt to pass through the tube. At any point, however, the polymer can be flushed out with a second injection if a man wishes to bring his sperm back up to speed.
"Unlike most forms of female birth control, Vasalgel is non-hormonal and only requires a single treatment in order to be effective for an extended period of time."
The Parsemus Foundation’s messaging on Vasalgel has focused on making the technology appealing to men. In a New York Times op-ed published this year, Elaine Lissner of the Parsemus Foundation pitches the product to “a 20-something or 30-something man, out on the dating market” who is worried about the effectiveness of the pill, given how many women forget to take pills during any given cycle. This pitch, too, is a plea for help. The Parsemus Foundation has to rely on donations and crowdfunding in order to bring male birth control to the market. Long-term treatments like Vasalgel are much less appealing to potential funders in the pharmaceutical industry who, as they observe, would much rather “sell pills to men’s partners every month.” Why sell a flat-screen television to a man, after all, when you can rent one to a woman for a decade?
In other words, the medical industry’s investment in the multibillion-dollar female birth control industry might block men’s access to male birth control just as effectively as Vasalgel would block their sperm. But a contraceptive polymer like Vasalgel would be a major medical innovation for more than just the man about town looking to copulate without consequence. In fact, male birth control could be the next major medical advance in women’s health, as strange as that idea seems.
If the use of polymer contraceptives were to become widespread, male birth control would completely transform the ways in which we understand sexual and reproductive health. Ever since men started wrapping animal intestines around their penises hundreds of years ago, we have been approaching birth control as a way of temporarily preventing fertilization inside a woman’s body. But what if we haven’t been able to see the forest through the ovaries? What if we could use polymer contraceptives like Vasalgel to block sperm at the source, rather than implementing expensive, convoluted, and potentially harmful contraceptive countermeasures inside women’s bodies?
If Vasalgel were to become as widespread and inexpensive as the Parsemus Foundation expects, unintended pregnancies could be substantially reduced. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended. That figure rises to 80 percent of all pregnancies among women age 19 and younger, and to 90 percent below age 15. The physical, financial, and emotional toll of an unintended pregnancy can be immense. As a report from the Guttmacher Institute notes, the average cost of an abortion is $485, which “pose[s] a major financial burden for women seeking these services,” who are often lower income. Not all unintended pregnancies are unwanted, however, and given the fact that modern birth control has deep roots in Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s belief in eugenics, the benefits of male birth control for lower-income families in particular should not be overemphasized.
Even if we set the prevention of unintended pregnancies aside, however, the potentially deleterious side effects of female birth control are enough to justify the implementation of Vasalgel on their own. As WomensHealth.Gov notes, side effects of the birth control pill include an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, blood clots, nausea, irregular bleeding, and depression. Less common methods of contraception like diaphragms and sponges can cause the rare and life-threatening toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Injections like Depo-Provera can cause bone loss and the use of intrauterine devices (IUDs) can potentially cause rips or tears in the uterus itself. It would take a commercial announcer a full minute of speed-reading to list off all the risks of every form of female birth control. Interrupting ovulation and fertilization is a complex process that requires a degree of hormonal regulation, often impacting other areas of a woman’s health.
“What if we could use polymer contraceptives like Vasalgel to block sperm at the source, rather than implementing expensive and potentially harmful contraception inside women’s bodies?”
But as luck would have it, you don’t have to tamper with testosterone in order to block sperm. It might seem as if men are unstoppable sperm machines, especially given the fact they produce 1,500 of them per second. But because sperm are as fickle as they are plentiful, technologies like Vasalgel and RISUG need not interfere with the production of sperm itself in the same way that female birth control often interferes with ovulation. Like the Little Dutch Boy walking by a dike on the brink of bursting, Vasalgel can simply plug up the vas deferens and stop an entire sea of sperm from crashing through. It promises to be a parsimonious solution to the age-old problem of preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is nothing short of Occam’s razor for your testicles.
While the way Vasalgel works inside a man’s body might be simple, its cultural impact would be complex. The Religious Right, in particular, has grown accustomed to a world in which regulating access to birth control means regulating women’s bodies, rather than men’s bodies. Although the Affordable Care Act began offering women no-to-low-cost contraceptive coverage in 2010, the Supreme Court’s now-infamous Hobby Lobby ruling this summer allowed “closely-held corporations” to offer health insurance plans without contraceptive coverage. The Hobby Lobby ruling is already being used to try to undermine Obamacare’s contraceptive requirement altogether. This week, Missouri state Representative Paul Wieland’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services went to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court will consider whether or not it is constitutional for “closely-held corporations” to be able to opt out of contraceptive coverage while states like Missouri cannot.
Lost in all of this legal conflict, however, is the fact that Hobby Lobby, of course, still covers vasectomies. But what if vasectomies were cheap, non-invasive, fully reversible, and as widespread as the female birth control pill? Would businesses like Hobby Lobby begin to object to them? If Vasalgel became popular and affordable enough to surpass female birth control, it would put the Religious Right’s opposition to contraception to the test. As The New York Times reported in 2012, many on the Religious Right justify their opposition to some forms of birth control by equating them with abortion because they “prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.” But if men’s bodies became the primary site for birth control, would religious leaders shift their rhetoric and take issue with a technology like Vasalgel on the grounds that it prevents life on a massive scale? Or do debates about life only have meaning when they take place over women’s bodies?
"If Vasalgel became popular and affordable enough to surpass female birth control, it would put the Religious Right’s opposition to contraception to the test."
If the Parsemus Foundation’s optimistic timeline for the release of Vasalgel holds true, we may be forced to confront these questions sooner than expected. In the meantime, men, prepare for the possibility that you may soon take over primary responsibility for contraception from your wife or girlfriend. The future of birth control is coming and soon it might be inside of you.