To protect the author and the identity of their family, we have made an exception in this case and permitted the author to be “anonymous.” ~ ed.
Re-entering the dating scene after a long term relationship has failed is always tough—it’s even tougher when you have to explain to a potential partner that you have an sexually transmitted disease, (one you contracted from a sexual assault, nonetheless).
I was raped after passing out at a party and ended up infected with genital herpes.
The last thing I remember from that night is falling asleep on the floor, drunk and alone. The next morning, I woke up in some bed, alone again, but completely naked and sore. I knew immediately what had happened, but absolutely no idea who had defiled me.
That one night has forever changed my life.
I have something I can never get rid of; no antibiotics will kill and no treatments can cure. I thank my god that I didn’t end up with something worse—like HIV or AIDS. Most people don’t realize it, but the Centre for Disease Control estimates one in six people aged 14 to 49 are infected with genital herpes and 776,000 new people are infected every year.
Yes, there are medications that can help manage the symptoms, but luckily I don’t really have any. In fact, had I not been tested, I (like the nearly four out of five people who have herpes) probably still wouldn’t even know I have it.
I do, however, have a constant, life-long reminder of the violation of my body that can’t help but set a tone for every potential romantic relationship.
Having to tell someone you are interested in that you have an sexually transmitted disease that is not your fault is agonizing; there is always so much anxiety leading up to that conversation.
How will they react? Will this change how they see me? Will this change how they feel about me?
I have seen both sides of the coin. I’ve had partners and friends that were completely understanding and supportive, knowing there was nothing I could have done and it was not my fault. I think the best thing someone has told me so far was “This doesn’t change anything about how amazing, smart, funny or beautiful you are.”
Sadly, I have had other people completely fly off the handle, telling me I was disgusting and throwing me out of their home. I have had some explain that while they think no less of me as a friend or a person, they can’t be in a physical relationship with me which, I understand.
It can be extremely difficult putting that much trust in someone new.
In a world full of instant access information (like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) it’s that much harder to trust that when we tell someone something so personal that it will stay private. I’ve been fortunate in that those I’ve told (for the most part) have been very compassionate and empathetic. They have been perceptive and accepting of my circumstances.
But the fear will always remain; the fear of rejection, of disappointment, of being not good enough and of having your secret told to the world.
It all comes down to trust, which can be a tricky thing for a rape victim.
I used to feel so broken, dirty and unworthy of love because of my past experience, as do so many others. I thought there was no way I could ever find someone to accept that part of me and truly love me for who I am. Those same old fears run through my head every time I tell someone, yet I keep doing it because I must.
I have to respect myself and my partner enough to be honest with them; I have to trust that they will hold my secret in confidence and that my skeleton will remain in their closet. I would rather be turned away for telling the truth than hated for keeping a secret. My conscience won’t allow me to even consider starting a relationship without being totally straightforward and direct and I have found it best to just be honest about my disease and I usually approach the situation the same each time.
As soon as I know that there is mutual interest, and I trust them enough to keep my confidence, I sit them down and am upfront. I explain that I was assaulted many years ago and contracted herpes. I do my best to educate them briefly on the possible symptoms and precautions needed to try and keep it from spreading.
I always end by saying that I understand if they can’t be with me because of it, but I could never have a physical relationship without telling them first.
It hurts when someone turns me away but that pain always fades. It helps to remember during those difficult times that it changes nothing about who I am; I am still the same loving, compassionate, trustworthy person I was before and no one can take that from me, unless I let them.
I’m not just a victim. I’m not just a survivor. I have been challenged and have overcome. I am the victor. What others feel and think about me is not nearly as important as how I feel and what I think about myself.
While having an sexually transmitted disease makes dating so much more complicated, it is not impossible. I don’t tell every person who flirts with me that I have a sexually transmitted disease—I have become much more open about it in the last few years. I realize I’m not the only one and maybe my struggle can give strength to someone in a similar situation.
As brave as these words seem, I am still afraid—the stigmas and preconceptions in our society for someone with a sexually transmitted disease, no matter what the circumstances, are still hurtful and intimidating.
Those of us in this situation need to remember that we are not unworthy of love. It does nothing to change what we have to offer others or who we are as people. We can still have loving, fulfilling relationships; they just may be a little more difficult to get started.
There are a few reasons I decided to write this.
First, I have been asked by others how I have dealt with starting new relationships with the added complication. It can be a rough path to get started on, so it’s nice to have some advice from someone who has been there and knows just how challenging it can be.
Second, I hope that others will read this and know they should not feel shamed or contemptible. You are not polluted or repulsive—and you are absolutely no less deserving of love or happiness than anyone else.
Last, I felt that it would be a good healing exercise for me. In sharing my story and getting these words out, I can help heal myself that much more.
I will not allow myself to be defined by the damage inflicted by a person who took liberties they had no right to take.
I refuse to give any more power to a nameless, faceless thief in the dark. I am not broken or dirty. I have so much good in me I refuse to dwell on the negative.
I will rise above, live my life and love again someday.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives
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